Maryland passes progressive voting reform package amidst national backdrop of voter disenfranchisement

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VOTING RIGHTS ADVOCATES CELEBRATE PASSAGE OF PROGRESSIVE PACKAGE OF VOTING RIGHTS POLICIES THAT SEEK TO MAKE VOTING MORE ACCESSIBLE

Group highlights the passage of the Value My Vote Act as a key policy in the fight for fully restoring voting rights to those formerly and currently incarcerated

Baltimore, Maryland – While states across the nation are passing laws to restrict voting rights for Americans, members of the Expand the Ballot coalition joined the Larry Young Morning Show on WOLB1010AM yesterday to celebrate the end of the Maryland General Assembly session and the passage of a comprehensive voting rights package that makes Maryland one of the leading states in America as it relates to voting reform in this country.

The coalition partners, including members from Out for Justice, JOTF, Life after Release and the Maryland chapters of Common Cause, the ACLU and the NAACP, worked hard for months putting together a package of policies that sought to strengthen voting rights legislation across the state, while expanding access to the ballot for all eligible voters, including those being held ‘Behind the Walls’, even while states such as Georgia try limiting access to the ballot.

“Whether you are a single mother with not a lot of time on your hands to stand in a long line to cast your ballot, or a currently incarcerated eligible voter looking to have your voice heard at the polls, this package of policies makes Maryland a leader in how we make voting accessible to all those seeking to have a say in future elections,” says Nicole Hanson-Mundell, executive director of Out for Justice and lead author of the ValueMyVote Act.

Led by Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins, the lead sponsor on each of the bills in the House of Delegates, the group celebrated the accomplishments made this session which drastically improved the accessibility voters will have when trying to cast their ballot in future Maryland elections. “It is not enough to say that eligible incarcerated individuals have the right to vote, that is why I introduced the ValueMyVote Act, to guarantee that right, by requiring that the materials and access for eligible incarcerated voters were not denied,” says Delegate Wilkins, who was able to achieve these successes during her first term as chair of the education sub-committee in the House Ways and Means Committee. “The passage of the ValueMyVote Act is a victory for democracy and justice for all Maryland voters.”

The ValueMyVote Act, HB222, will ensure that those formerly and currently incarcerated are educated on upcoming elections while being provided with voter registration and absentee ballot forms. The program will also ensure that the Md Board of Elections works alongside the Division of Corrections to make sure that every citizen released from incarceration is given notice of their eligibility to register to vote upon release, while also posting signs in correctional facilities and parole and probation offices explaining the law on voting here in Maryland.

The legislation came forth as a way to enforce education on the 2015 voter restoration legislation that enabled citizens who are no longer incarcerated the right to vote upon release from incarceration. Advocates led these efforts during last year’s election, going into correctional facilities across the state educating and registering eligible voters who were awaiting trial or incarcerated on misdemeanors – deeming them eligible to participate in the Presidential election.

“What we learned during last year’s election as we entered correctional facilities across the state – registering eligible voters and getting them absentee ballots to make sure their voices were heard during the Presidential election – was paramount in how we crafted the language of HB222, to ensure that moving forward the state Board of Elections and the Department of Corrections worked hand-in-hand to ensure that formerly and currently incarcerated men and women who were eligible to vote, knew they had the right to cast their ballot,” Hanson-Mundell stated.

Also of importance to the group was the fact that the legislature was able to pass SB683 and HB1048, which will make the convenience of ballot drop boxes permanent in future elections, something voters relied on heavily during the 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bills would also create permanent absentee ballot lists to prevent voters from having to request them each year, while requiring the Board of Elections to send out ballot request forms to every eligible voter during the 2022 and 2024 Primary elections.

We applaud the Maryland General Assembly for passing common sense election reforms that ensure eligible voters have access to the ballot no matter where they reside in the state,” says Joanne Antoine, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland.

“The bills passed this session expand access to voters on college campuses, in local and state correctional facilities, and those who want to vote early but don’t have a vote center near them or work early in the morning,” Antoine explained to the listening audience. “We still have a way to go to ensure no voter is disenfranchised, especially in Southern MD where voters are calling for fair representation, but we’re headed in the right direction.”