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NJ Considers Letting Prisoners Vote

by Countable | Updated on 3.9.18

What’s the story?

Returning the voting rights of citizens who’ve been incarcerated has been the focus of legislation in many states around the country. Florida, which has had some of the strictest laws restricting the formerly incarcerated from voting, has a new law on the ballot in November. But only two states -- Maine and Vermont -- actually allow citizens to vote while in prison or on parole. Some lawmakers now want New Jersey to add itself to that list.

In New Jersey, African-Americans comprise 60 percent of the NJ prison population, but only 15 percent of the general population. Supporters of the law argue that, given these disparities, disenfranchisement of prisoners and those on parole violates the Constitution. Specifically, constitutional prohibitions against restricting access to voting due to race.

Approximately 94,000 potential voters could be affected if the law changes.

Shavonda Sumter, a Democratic state assemblywoman from Paterson, N.J., told the Wall Street Journal, "We do not want to mix the punishment of actually serving time in prison for a crime you’ve committed with stripping away these fundamental human rights."

Critics of the law, like Republican State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, worry prisoners would create a voting bloc that would support laws rolling back criminal punishments. Maine and Vermont protect against that possibility by only allowing prisoners to vote via absentee ballot in the district they last lived in prior to conviction, rather than the district in which they are housed.

Support of prisoner’s right to vote doesn’t always fall along party lines. Republicans in Vermont have said they will oppose any measure to end inmate voting.

Mike Donohue,a spokesman for the Vermont Republican Party told NBC News, "The last thing we want to do is start putting up insurmountable barriers to participation in civic life because someone may have been convicted of a crime. People’s right to vote is sacred."

Joseph Jackson, who was incarcerated in Maine for close to two decades, told NBC, "Having some sense of community and being part of the society is really necessary."

What do you think?

Should New Jersey, and other states, enact legislation to enfranchise prisoners and those on parole? Why or why not? What about those who’ve completed their time and parole, and paid any and all restitution? Who benefits from the disenfranchisement of incarcerated citizens? Who benefits if they are returned their right to vote?

Tell us in the comments what you think, then use the Take Action button to tell your reps!

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: EU Law Analysis)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(162)
  • Andy1
    03/09/2018
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    They are still citizens, and if the main goal of incarceration is rehabilitation then we should encourage civic engagement. If we continue policies and practices that view incarceration solely as a punitive measure then the same societal problems that landed these individuals in prison continue to snowball.

    Like (74)
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  • RadicalModerate
    03/09/2018
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    Let all Americans vote. You can’t exclude some people from representation and recite the pledge of allegiance without being a hypocrite.

    Like (38)
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  • John.Nutt
    03/09/2018
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    This smells like the Democratic Party needs more uninformed voters in order to stay in power.

    Like (31)
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  • Ava
    03/09/2018
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    Not to mention that prisoners and felons are often in jail for non violent offenses. And often the people in jail are black/brown. Not allowing prisoners or felons a vote is just a continuation of The Grandfather Clause or voting literacy tests. If you think this is uninformed check out The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

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  • Agustin
    03/09/2018
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    The purpose of incarceration is to remove the privileges the free enjoy. Letting the incarcerated vote goes against their punishment and conveys the wrong message. If you want to reinstate their right to vote, do so once their term is complete and as part of them returning to society.

    Like (20)
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  • operaman
    03/09/2018
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    Ill-considered. Passage would dilute base to ensure and enhance the Democrat power structure. ”Hey, you vote for me, I will work for your early release. And I bet you that illegal aliens will be next.

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  • Karan
    03/09/2018
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    No damn way. The broke the law. They don’t get to select the people who make the law. We don’t let 4 year olds vote because we ASSUME they’ll do the wrong thing because they are clueless but all of a sudden we want to give prisoners the right to vote when they’ve ACTUALLY don’t wrong things. No damn way.

    Like (19)
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  • Joe
    03/09/2018
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    They are not fit for society, why would they be responsible to vote. This is perhaps one of the stupidest thing ever proposed. Each legislator should be thrown out.

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  • Michael.J.L
    03/09/2018
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    I say no. While you are incarcerated you lose many of the privileges and much of the freedom that goes with not being incarcerated. Once a person has done their time however their voting rights should be restored.

    Like (13)
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  • Leona-Aurelia
    03/09/2018
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    I see no issue with returning the right to vote to those currently on parole. They’ve served their time. But actual prisoners? That’s a different can of worms...

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  • IllWill
    03/09/2018
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    Yes! Voting is one our fundamental rights as citizens of this country. Also, if you want prisoners to be successfully integrated back into society, you need to allow them to feel like they are still part of society by allowing them to continue voting.

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  • PaxAmericana
    03/09/2018
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    Why should we let the murders, rapists, and drug dealers vote after they broke the law?

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  • David
    03/09/2018
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    No! Punishment for a crime is supposed to be punishment! If it’s a felony, they have lost the right to vote indefinitely anyway! If it’s not, being in jail is supposed to show the person how “cut off” from society feels so they do not repeat the actions that got them there. They can vote when released.

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  • Walter
    03/10/2018
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    Wow! Talk about Democrats desperation for votes. This really illustrates the point.

    Like (8)
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  • Dea
    03/09/2018
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    Restoration of voting rights is essential in integrating former felons into society. It is the just thing to do. Voting rights restoration does not resonate with many but doing even minimal research on mass incarceration and the built in bias of the criminal justice system against minorities and the poor should horrify us all and turn us into passionate proponents for this cause.

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  • TracyEckels
    03/09/2018
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    As a former Federal Law Enforcement Officer with the Federal Bureau Of Prisons I don’t think that people serving time for the crimes they committed should come with the right to Vote. People don’t understand how inmates communicate with each other. Giving them any power and you will learn that inmates have nothing better to do than to make plans and uniting themselves. (24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They will tear this country apart from the inside out).

    Like (7)
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  • Terry
    03/09/2018
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    No ! They committed a crime against society they don’t have rights until that debt is paid.

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  • AlexandraBeautyman
    03/09/2018
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    Denying any citizen the right to vote is unconstitutional.

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  • Tracy
    03/09/2018
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    No! This should be one of the privileges and freedoms that someone incarcerated should loose. There are gangs, drug lords, and those already guilty of corruption inside prisons who still have influence on the outside world and you want to give them the ability to determine who gets in office to serve “the people”. Just NO!

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  • Heather
    03/09/2018
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    Absolutely not, your in jail for a reason.

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