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Rights for Wrongdoers

Advocates seeking to expand the voting rights of convicted felons in Maryland are stepping up their efforts this year, hoping that the election of Gov. Martin O'Malley will help move bills that stalled in past years.

Leaders from the 2nd Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church met with O'Malley (D) yesterday morning to encourage him to support legislation that, in varying degrees, would restore the voting rights of former offenders.

In Maryland, a first-time offender is able to vote after completing a sentence, including any probation or parole. People convicted of two or more felonies must wait three years before they can vote.

A House bill would allow first-time offenders to vote after they are released from prison. A Senate bill would remove the waiting period for second-time offenders.

"This is an issue that has been addressed in the past, and we want to accomplish something meaningful this time around," said Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's), a lead sponsor.

Del. Justin D. Ross (D-Prince George's) said that current laws are "punitive and discriminatory" and that it is time for a change.

Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr. said it is "unconscionable" that 140,000 former offenders, including 8 percent of Maryland's black population, are disenfranchised because of the voting laws.

Nationally, about 5.3 million people are unable to cast ballots because of laws that prohibit voting by those with felony convictions, according to the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group.

The laws vary by state. In New Jersey, for example, felons are allowed to vote after they complete their sentences, probation and/or parole. In Kentucky, felons must obtain a pardon from the governor to restore their voting rights. Maine allows inmates to vote.

Sen. Joan Carter Conway, chairwoman of the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, said that her chamber's bill will come before her committee March 8 and that she will promote its passage. She urged those attending yesterday's event to call members of the Senate committee to help ensure passage.

"It's really about fairness," said Sen. Verna L. Jones (D-Baltimore), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus. "Once a person has served their time, they should have their vote restored."

Ovetta Wiggins

By Phyllis Jordan  |  February 20, 2007; 10:25 AM ET
Categories:  General Assembly  
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Comments

What a shock. Maryland wants to go softer on criminals.

Posted by: JD | February 20, 2007 12:17 PM | Report abuse

FORMER criminals, JD. People who have served their sentences, done their time, paid their debt to society.

I'm for it. People who have done their time should have a fair chance to come back into society, with all their rights restored. If they offend again, send them right back to prison for even longer, but if they don't, they should be able to vote.

JD, if you committed a crime and served 10 years in prison, why should you continue being punished (by not having your right to vote restored) when you finally get out?

Posted by: SteveG | February 20, 2007 12:32 PM | Report abuse

Let me tell you what is truly criminal. On 2/22 at l:00p.m. the House Ways and Means Committee has a hearing on Chairman Hixson's H.B.399. It would authorize the county council of a charter county to set a property tax rate that is higher than the rate auithorized under the county's charter or collect more property tax revenues than the revenues authorized under the county's charter by a 2/3 vote of the full membership; of the council, notwithstanding any provision of a county charter that places a limit on that county's property tax rate or revenues; and applying the Act to tax years beginning after June 30, 2007.
I put property tax relief on my campaign signs. Why didn't Delegate put Property Tax Increase on her signs? Why wasn't she honest with the voters. Why did't she list this bill in her campaign literature. That is criminal!

Posted by: Robin Ficker | February 20, 2007 1:02 PM | Report abuse

If they have "paid their debt to society" and "it's really about fairness" than let's be fair and also restore a convicted felon's right to own a firearm. Otherwise, just leave things as they are and quit trying to turn Maryland into California.

Posted by: BG from PG | February 20, 2007 1:22 PM | Report abuse

BG ... if we're so worried that a particular prison inmate is going to return to a life of crime, then why are we releasing them in the first place?

My view: If they aren't safe to have all of their rights restored, don't let them out of prison to begin with. If they are believed to be safe enough, then let them out without any tacked-on weakening of rights.

Since I am saying don't let them out at all unless we're very confident they're not going to return to crime, I don't see how that can be called "soft on criminals."

Posted by: SteveG | February 20, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

SteveG, you need to understand that the lifelong suspension (or however long) as part of the bargain when you commit the crime. It's the continuation of the same sentence, in a way.

Once make the changes suggested, you are reducing the sentence. Not that felons vote much anyway, but still - do you really think the public wants the State to go softer on criminals (or ex-criminals)?

Posted by: JD | February 20, 2007 1:52 PM | Report abuse

And your comment: "Since I am saying don't let them out at all unless we're very confident they're not going to return to crime" is either incredibly naive or disingenious.

Nobody ever knows if a criminal has actually reformed, or will be a recidivist, until many years later (assuming he/she hasn't broken the law in the meantime). We're playing macro percentages here, which is appropriate when we're talking public policy.

The individual case-by-case exceptions can already be addressed with the pardon process.

Posted by: JD | February 20, 2007 1:59 PM | Report abuse

JD, those are both salient points. But I do not believe that one's right to vote should be permanently kept away. It is a fundamental part of being an American, in a way that some other rights may not be, and should be restored when the inmate has completed the sentence.

Even ex-felons are still Americans. BG's strawman comparison about gun rights serves the purpose of highlighting the point I'm trying to make, like so:

If we take it as true, as you say, that it's a numbers game (and I agree it is), then there is a much stronger argument for not restoring gun rights, which might pose a public danger.

There is no public danger posed by restoring voting rights.

As a matter of philosophy, I don't think you can have a working democracy if you view voting as a privilege rather than a right. It was not a right easily won by women and racial minorities, and that itself shows the danger of giving the government too much power to muck with it.

We already have some boundaries around it: age, citizenship and not being a felon currently serving time are major ones. I think those are enough restrictions.

Posted by: SteveG | February 20, 2007 2:43 PM | Report abuse

SteveG, WTF? This is a WaPo blog, we're supposed to be yelling at each other, not reasonable... :-)

Fair points all around. You (almost) have me convinced...

Posted by: JD | February 20, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

No deep philosophical debate involved here... it is only about votes for democrats. In fishing for the support of blacks this way, it also reveals the silent racism of many democrat politicos.

Posted by: gitarre | February 20, 2007 3:28 PM | Report abuse

What on earth is racial about it? Are all felons black? That's pretty racist, gitarre. There are crimes of violence that are felonies as well as nonviolent crimes such as embezzlement that also are considered felonies. Are the violent and the nonviolent crimes exactly the same? Are the criminals exactly the same? Should they have the exact same punishment? Should they be barred for life from participating in life in America once they have paid their debt to society? Again, are they all black? Wow. I'm really stunned.

Posted by: lms | February 20, 2007 3:39 PM | Report abuse

What on earth is racial about it? Are all felons black? That's pretty racist, gitarre. There are crimes of violence that are felonies as well as nonviolent crimes such as embezzlement that also are considered felonies. Are the violent and the nonviolent crimes exactly the same? Are the criminals exactly the same? Should they have the exact same punishment? Should they be barred for life from participating in life in America once they have paid their debt to society? Again, are they all black? Wow. I'm really stunned.

Posted by: lms | February 20, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

This trend is frightening to me, if a person was actually caught, tried and convicted of a felony, they've already used up all the rights they deserve. DON'T give them anymore! What message does this send? To everyone? What about the victims?? Why continue to victimize them?! This country's going down the toilet, we have certain laws in place for a reason, why should anyone abide by any of them if they're so changeable and made to accommodate the ones they're supposed to be restricting?...

Posted by: 4shoes | February 20, 2007 3:51 PM | Report abuse

lms: Try reading the article before you make stupid, and untrue, accusations about me.

Posted by: gitarre | February 20, 2007 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Gitarre, your "logic" is felon = black = Democratic voter.

Yeah, not racist at all.

4shoes, if they have served their sentence, then they have paid the penalty for their crime that a judge and jury deemed appropriate. Nobody's talking about giving anybody "more" rights, they are talking about restoring rights we're supposed to all have that are temporarily given up by people serving sentences.

You give up your freedom when you go to prison, as due punishment for your crime. You get it back when you finish your sentence.

Posted by: SteveG | February 20, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Letting the wrong people vote runs the risk of electing the wrong politicians, a situation that could be far worse than whatever risk comes from restoring 2A rights to convicts. Exhibit A: there are 500,000+ dead Iraqis who would probably wish that a different person has been elected president of the U.S. Exhibit B: Hitler and Mussolini were both popularly elected, with help from the support of their convicted criminal followers.

Posted by: k-romulus | February 20, 2007 4:58 PM | Report abuse

I think the conclusions gitarre drew were actually pretty logical. OK, start calling me racist too.....

What he was saying, was, blacks tend to vote disproportionately for Democrats (something like 9 to 1 last election, I think). Blacks also tend to have felony convictions in greater proportions than society in general. No, I don't know the stat, but I challenge anyone here to disprove that. Not because being black makes you a criminal...that would be racist. It's probably because of the higher incidence of single moms, combined with a higher poverty rate means more blacks get the book thrown at them, because they can't afford a decent lawyer (OJ excepted).

Therefore, allowing felons to vote means more blacks get to vote, which means more votes for Democrats are added to the mix than Republicans.

Is that racist? Try reality.

Posted by: JD | February 20, 2007 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Under Maryland law, a corporation that commits a felony retains all of its political rights (to make political contributions, to hire lobbyists, etc.). Only individuals lose political rights when convicted of a crime. One set of laws for rich criminals, another for the poor.

JD, do you think that's fair?

Posted by: Fairness | February 20, 2007 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Under Maryland law, a corporation that commits a felony retains all of its political rights (to make political contributions, to hire lobbyists, etc.). Only individuals lose political rights when convicted of a crime. One set of laws for rich criminals, another for the poor.

JD, do you think that's fair?

Posted by: Fairness | February 20, 2007 5:05 PM | Report abuse

Fairness, you're incorrect. Rich criminals (felons) and poor criminals are treated identically wrt voting rights post felony convictions.

And I don't know for sure, but I'd bet that even convicted felons are allowed to give money to political campaigns and hire lobbyists - isn't that what Mark Rich did to get Clinton to pardon him?

So, yes, I think it's completely fair. Your premise is way off base, but nice try.

Posted by: JD | February 20, 2007 5:10 PM | Report abuse

NYC democrats have just introduced legislation to allow voting by non-citizens. I expect we will see that concept cloned in MD shortly.

Posted by: gitarre | February 20, 2007 5:13 PM | Report abuse

According to this, it looks like felons can still vote immediately after one offense and can vote after a second offense after a 3 year waiting period - so they are only denied the right to vote after at least 3 seperate felony convictions.

If someone has at least 3 felony convictions, what sort of campaign promises do you think would motivate them to support a candidate and, honestly now, do you believe those motivations generally would be in the best interest of the larger society?

And, as long as we're being honest, does anyone REALLY believe this is about criminal justice in the first place rather than partisan politics? Seriously, on your honor and in your heart, do you genuinely believe that is why the Maryland legislature would bring these issues up?

Posted by: as long as we're being civil | February 21, 2007 9:39 AM | Report abuse

This is about a basic right in the country. According to the US Constitution States have the right to deny voting rights on basis of criminal activity, that does not mean that they should. What we are essentially telling ex-offenders is "Welcome back to society...now shut up". While this could be looked through partisan blinders it shouldn't be. As somebody who actually interacts with the ex-offender population (as opposed to I'm sure many of you here) there are many intellegent people who can add to the civil discourse in this country but are not allowed to vote...on BOTH sides of the aisle

Posted by: vote! | February 21, 2007 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Baltimore was the murder capital of the world under O'Malley's failed leadership for SEVEN years WITHOUT the death penalty. That says it all.

Posted by: ROB | February 21, 2007 10:56 AM | Report abuse

Rob, you're right, it is laughable that O'Malley holds himself out as an expert on the death penalty and crime when he headed up the murder capital of the whole USA as Mayor Baltimore for 7 years without making any inroads on crime at all, he even fired 7 different police commissioners in 7 years.

Posted by: tony | February 21, 2007 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Rob, you're right, it is laughable that O'Malley holds himself out as an expert on the death penalty and crime when he headed up the murder capital of the whole USA as Mayor Baltimore for 7 years without making any inroads on crime at all, he even fired 7 different police commissioners in 7 years.

Posted by: tony | February 21, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

"Baltimore was the murder capital of the world under O'Malley's failed leadership for SEVEN years WITHOUT the death penalty. That says it all."

Baltimore was somehow exempt from the state's death penalty since 1999? Who knew?

Posted by: howie | February 21, 2007 1:37 PM | Report abuse

Howie, regardless of whether MD state law permits the death penalty, name 1 person actually executed in Baltimore since 1999??

Posted by: Anonymous | February 21, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Howie, you idiot, that's the whole point, even with the death penalty in place, Baltimore was the murder capital of the entire USA under O'Malley for 7 consecutive years. It just doesn't work.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Howie, you're right 2 + 2 = 5

Posted by: Anonymous | February 22, 2007 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Hey, the MD Democrats have to cater to their constituencies since they'll never convince decent folks to vote for them!

Posted by: Rufus | February 26, 2007 3:46 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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