TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey could soon join more than a dozen states that allow convicts who are out of jail on parole or probation the right to vote.
The Democratic-led Assembly passed legislation just before the Thanksgiving holiday, sending the measure to the Democratic-led state Senate. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy declined to weigh in on the measure but has previously expressed support for the idea that offenders deserved second chances.
A closer look at the bill that is winding through the Legislature:
Under current law, convicts who are incarcerated, on parole or on probation are denied the ability to vote. The proposed law simply lets convicts on parole or probation vote. Those in prison would still not have the ability to vote. A legislative fiscal estimate says the measure would affect roughly 80,000 people. The estimate says there are over 64,000 adults on probation in the current fiscal year, with about 15,000 parolees under the Department of Corrections’ supervision.
The bill’s authors say the measure will restore a constitutional right to offenders deemed safe enough by the judicial system to be out from behind bars.
Democratic Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter debated Republicans on the floor of the Assembly before the measure passed.
“The right to vote is not a privilege. It’s a constitutional right,” she said. “In order to restore them fully as humans and as part of our society, the right to vote is something that will benefit us all and we’re all the better for it.”
Republicans opposed the measure. Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said anyone who votes should first complete his or her sentence, including probation or parole.
Republican Asssemblyman Jay Webber said the bill defied common sense.
“There is a reason why we have a saying in our language that is used to denote something that is absurd,” he said. “We say the inmates are running the asylum. This bill literally allows the inmates to run the asylum.”
WHAT DO OTHER STATES DO?
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Jersey would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia to bar only convicts who are incarcerated from voting. Two states — Maine and Vermont — never take the right to vote away from convicts.