Bill to Restore Vote for People on Parole and Probation Advances, But NJ Needs to Include Incarcerated People

December 12, 2019

S4260/A5823 moves out of Senate Community and Urban Affairs committee and goes to a floor vote

A bill to restore voting rights to people on parole and probation advanced out of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee and now heads to the floor for a full vote on Monday. Advocates from the ACLU-NJ and other organizations insisted the Legislature restore the right to vote for people who are incarcerated, who should never lose their right to vote in the first place.

“The right to vote is too fundamental for any person to lose, and we must allow all people, regardless of criminal history, to exercise that right. The committee’s vote to advance re-enfranchisement for people on parole and probation is an important step toward justice, yet it fails to fully realize our principles of a democracy by refusing to restore the right to vote for the 19,212 people who are incarcerated in our state,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “By linking criminal justice history and the opportunity to participate in New Jersey’s democracy, our state is undermining its own political process through inequitable, deeply racially disparate exclusion of the community members of color who are far more likely to be incarcerated than white New Jerseyans.”

This legislation stands to restore the right to vote for an estimated 82,988 New Jerseyans on probation or parole, although more than 19,000 people in New Jersey’s prisons and jails would still be disenfranchised. Deep disparities exist in New Jersey’s criminal justice system. A Black adult in New Jersey is 12 times more likely to be incarcerated than a white adult, and New Jersey has the highest disparity in imprisonment rates between Black and white residents of any state in the country.
 
Although Black people comprise just 15 percent of New Jersey's overall population, they represent about half of those who have lost their voting rights as a result of a criminal conviction.

“We thank Senator Rice, Senator Cunningham and Senator Turner, the bill’s sponsors, for taking this step to bring us closer to fulfilling the principles of democracy, and we urge the Legislature to go even further,” said ACLU-NJ Senior Supervising Attorney and Director of Supreme Court Advocacy Alexander Shalom. “Taking away the vote based on criminal convictions began during the Jim Crow Era to strip Black voters of their power, and such a policy serves an identical function today, especially in New Jersey. We call on legislators to pass this bill, and we call on our lawmakers to pass legislation restoring the right to vote for people who are incarcerated, which is just as urgent.”

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