Ex-felons in Maryland are one step closer to gaining expanded access to the ballot box after the state’s House of Delegates voted on Jan. 20 to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto on legislation that would restore voting privileges to ex-offenders immediately upon their release from prison, even if they are still subject to parole or probation.
Voting rights activists hailed the lawmakers for their action and urged the Maryland Senate to follow suit. The chamber is slated to take a similar vote on Feb. 5.
“Today, the voting rights of an estimated 40,000 individuals are at stake,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement. “The Lawyers’ Committee looks forward to a Maryland Senate vote that recognizes the importance of breaking down barriers to the ballot and increasing participation in our democracy. We look to Maryland’s elected representatives to fight for those citizens who are ready to re-engage in their society.”
According to the Maryland Manual, a three-fifths vote of the elected membership of both chambers is necessary to override a veto. The House voted 85-56 to overturn Hogan’s veto on the voting measure.
“We thank our House of Delegates for standing firm in furthering the right to vote for all Marylanders we eagerly await February 5 for the Senate affirm the House’s override vote,” said the Unlock the Vote coalition in a statement.
“Thirty days after this Senate vote to override, the bill will go into effect and over 40,000 Marylanders will regain their right to vote,” the statement continued. “It is time for the voice of these new voters to be heard in the voting booth as they help to choose our elected leaders we look forward to registering and turning out voters for the April 26 local and federal primary.”
House Bill 0980 and Senate Bill 340 were overwhelmingly passed by the House and Senate in 2015 General Assembly. The legislation would overturn current statute which prevents ex-felons from regaining their right to vote until they have completed the terms of parole and probation.
Approximately five weeks after the bills’ passage, however, Gov. Hogan vetoed them.
“The fact is that persons released from incarceration on parole or mandatory supervision are still serving their time as a debt to society for their actions,” he wrote in his veto letter. “The current law achieves the proper balance between the repayment of obligations to society for a felony conviction and the restoration of the various restricted rights.”
If the Senate overrides the veto as expected, it would be the third time the state has enacted laws to expand the voting rights of ex-offenders in the past decade. Maryland would join the District of Columbia and the 38 other states where most ex-felons automatically gain the right to vote upon the completion of their sentence, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.