Over the years I’ve known dozens of Black men and a few Black women who have done a bid (been incarcerated) in the Maryland prison system (the official name is the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services). Add the people I’ve known who have been on probation with no real jail time and I suspect the number may be in the hundreds.
Some have struggled when they get back home, with substance abuse or the inability to get or keep a job. Tragically, many of them go back in.
But, the vast majority of the people I know have come home and stayed home. Their families have rallied around them and many have thrived through the West Baltimore Values of hard work and resilience; they’ve got good jobs and some have started their own businesses. We’ve all got our challenges, but for the most part, the people I know who have been incarcerated are doing okay.
However, there is a universal stigma just about everybody who has been in the system experiences, and that is the ambiguity connected to the fundamental American right (and duty) to vote.
If you were a felon in Maryland you could not vote until you completed your full sentence, which included parole and probation. Further, advocates of voting rights for felons have complained there were nuances to the Maryland law that compelled many to simply forgo voting period.
But, things are changing rapidly and in the very near future the political landscape, especially in Baltimore could be dramatically altered.
“House bill 980 and Senate bill 340 will allow for some 43,000 ex offenders currently on parole or probation that’s across the state and numerous zip codes they will give them the opportunity to weigh in on public policy, making sure they have a seat at the table,” said Del. Cory McCray (D45), sponsor of the House bill that would restore voting rights to felons as soon as they leave prison.
McCray also led last week’s effort to successfully override Gov. Larry Hogan’s
veto of the bills (Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D43) sponsored legislation in the
Senate). “We have a judicial system…whether that’s a judge, whether that’s a parole board, or any type of similar authority, they have deemed our family, our friends, our neighbors merit the opportunity to reintegrate into the community,” McCray said.
“They have said they are no harm, they are no danger…and they feel that it’s okay for them to reintegrate back into the community,” McCray added. The political calculus is pretty straightforward; add a potential 43,000 voters, the vast majority coming from Baltimore City and the race for mayor of Baltimore, which has at least 14 candidates becomes even more volatile.
The financial numbers of the top candidates for mayor were divulged last week. Sen. Catherine Pugh has about $664,000 on hand; former prosecutor Elizabeth Embry has $393,000; former mayor Sheila Dixon has about $320,000 in her coffers; followed by Councilman Nick Mosby with $203,000; and Councilman Carl Stokes with about $155,000. But, the financial wildcard in the race is businessman David Warnock, who is going to infuse his campaign with about $1 million of his own money.
However, the trump card could very well be the newly liberated (in a couple of ways) ex felons. That is, if they are registered and if they vote then their impact could be huge. The mayor’s race could be determined by a few thousand votes given the city’s demographics and the number of candidates.
Do the math.
“If you’re not sitting at the table, you’re on the menu,” said McCray. “This gives them the opportunity to join the table.”
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.