House votes to expand voting rights to people on probation and parole
The House of Delegates recently voted to overturn Republican Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of last year’s House Bill 980. The legislation would expand voting rights to an estimated 40,000 Marylanders on felony probation or parole.
The Democratic-controlled Senate needs 29 votes to overturn the veto, and is scheduled to vote on February 5th. According to The Baltimore Sun, the Senate passed two versions of the bill last year. The first vote was 31-15 and the second vote was 29-18. If both chambers approve the override, the bill will become law in 30 days.
Expanding voting rights in Maryland has significant implications for disenfranchisement nationally; thirty-five states continue to impose voting bans on persons living in the community on supervision.
Governor reverses predecessor’s executive order to restore voting rights
In November 2015, outgoing Governor Steve Beshear issued an executive order to automatically restore voting rights to an estimated 100,000 people with non-violent felony convictions who have completed their sentences. Despite supporting voting rights restoration, Kentucky’s new Republican Governor Matt Bevin recently reversed his predecessor’s executive order. “While I have been a vocal supporter of the restoration of rights, it is an issue that must be addressed through the legislature and by the will of the people,” Governor Bevin said in announcing the order.
Individuals with past felony convictions will, once again, have to apply to the governor’s office to seek restoration of their voting rights. According to The Herald-Leader, Governor Bevin’s order will not retroactively affect those with past felony convictions who, since Beshear’s order on November 24th, have received a certificate from the state confirming their restoration of rights.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who has testified before a legislative committee in support of a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights, questioned whether Beshear had the authority to unilaterally change state law. Senator Paul says the order to restore voting rights might have been best carried out by the General Assembly, and hopes to work with Governor Bevin to make it a priority during the next legislative session.
Combating misinformation on voting rights restoration
In Probation Journal, David McCahon of the University of California Riverside argues that misinformation around felony disenfranchisement laws and other exclusionary policies prevents many people with felony convictions from participating in civic activities. McCahon conducted 36 interviews with people of varied criminal justice backgrounds who had been released from prison or jail in the last year. All of the people included in the study were to have their rights automatically restored prior to the November 2014 midterm election. He found that a majority of respondents misunderstood how their voting rights had been impacted by their felony conviction. McCahon says parole and probation agencies should help facilitate civic reintegration by providing accurate, accessible information to people regarding their civil rights. “Informing ex-felons of their postconviction rights is consistent with the rehabilitative mission of correctional departments,” writes McCahon.