Pioneering Legislation Would Allow People to Vote Upon Their Release from Incarceration <br> Experts: Restoring the Vote Decreases Recidivism, Increases Democracy
Annapolis--Delegate Salima Siler Marriott has filed legislation in Maryland that would automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions upon their release from incarceration. The legislation would put Maryland in line with the District of Columbia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and 11 other states that do not disfranchise people on probation and parole, and allow citizens to vote as long as they are not incarcerated.
While Maryland has taken a national lead in diverting non-violent drug offenders away from costly prisons and into more effective, community-based treatment, the state has not -- until this point -- been at the forefront of the modern Civil Rights movement for voting rights restoration.
"Maryland is now one of only 13 states that disfranchise some people with felony convictions for life," said Delegate Marriott. "The denial of the right to vote undermines the democratic principles that under-gird our Constitution. With this legislation Maryland is going to be on the right side of the Mason Dixon line."
Maryland's current law mandates a three year waiting period after all sentences--including probation and parole-- have been served. Only after those three years can a person vote again--in some cases, people are sentenced to fifteen years on parole after incarceration. In that instance, the citizen would only be allowed to vote eighteen years after they had finished serving their prison term. In others, people are sentenced to life on parole, and therefore can never vote again.
Delegate Marriott has just pre-filed legislation for the 2005 Session to immediately restore the right to vote to Maryland citizens as soon as they are released from incarceration. She is co-sponsoring the bill along with the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, Delegate Rudy Cane, and former Chair Obie Patterson.
"I applaud Delegate Marriott for setting higher standards of justice for the state of Maryland," said Michael Blain, Director of Public Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance. "The collateral consequences of the drug war have disfranchised hundreds of thousands of Marylanders, and 4.7 million people nationwide. The complete restoration of voting rights in Maryland would repair some of the damage done by these racist policies and help Maryland restore lives, communities and democracy."
According to research by the Washington, DC-based criminal justice think tank The Sentencing Project, restoring voting rights to all persons in the community upon their release from confinement would have numerous positive effects. Most critically, it will protect public safety and ensure successful reentry. Recidivism rates for persons coming out of prison are very high, with a 2/3 rearrest rate within three years of release. People with positive connections with their community are less likely to victimize others. Disfranchisement after incarceration sends a message of "second class citizenship," whereas participation in the electoral process enables people to join the community in constructive ways.
It would also eliminate electoral confusion: In most states database technology is not adequate to enable election officials to determine if a voter applicant is on probation or parole. Further, persons on probation or parole often have difficulty obtaining the necessary paperwork to demonstrate that they have completed their sentence. By permitting voting by non-incarcerated persons these technical problems would be eliminated for both registration officials and applicants.
It is also undemocratic for Maryland to practice taxation without representation. People living in the community under probation or parole supervision are required to maintain gainful employment and/or attend school. These people are paying taxes like other citizens, yet are denied the right to vote for school board candidates for their childrens' schools, for local officials making decisions on taxes and development, or for national leaders setting foreign policy.
Finally, there is no legitimate public policy purpose for denying the right to vote to people on probation and parole. Public policies should serve some reasonable goal for the community; disfranchisement after incarceration fails to meet this standard. Disenfranchisement serves no demonstrable deterrent effect and runs counter to the goal of rehabilitation. Further, it imposes a character test for voting by presuming that some people have poor moral standing and should be disqualified. This runs counter to longstanding notions of full participation in a democratic society.