Prisoners serving their sentences as well as parolees and probationers would be allowed to vote in New Jersey under newly introduced legislation, but only if they had served in the military. State Sen. Ronald Rice, a Vietnam War veteran, introduced the bill on Monday, saying those who sacrificed for their country should get special consideration in getting back their civic rights. “Those of us who fought in wars, we make mistakes like everyone else,” Rice (D-Essex) said. “But we fought for the country, too, and that should count for something.” Currently, convicted felons in New Jersey aren’t allowed to vote until they have served their full sentences, including prison time, parole and probation. The bill (S2050) comes three months after the nation’s top law-enforcement official, Attorney General Eric Holder, called on states to repeal laws that restrict voting for felons once they leave prison.
A study by the nonprofit Sentencing Project found that 5.85 million Americans weren’t allowed to vote because of felony convictions as of 2010. States have varying degrees of voting restrictions for those convicted of serious crimes, according to Nonprofit VOTE — an organization that advocates increasing voter participation.
On one extreme, four states — Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia — bar felons from voting for life unless they successfully petition the government. On the other extreme, in Maine and Vermont, felons can vote while serving time in prison. Twenty-one states — including Maryland, North Carolina and Louisiana — have laws similar to those in New Jersey.
Rice’s bill would apply to all veterans convicted of all crimes except sex offenses.