More than 94,000 New Jersey residents with criminal convictions are prohibited from voting, but civil rights groups are pushing for that to change. Blacks make up about 15 percent of New Jersey’s population, but represent about half of those who cannot vote because of a criminal conviction. That disproportionately reduces the political power of black communities, said state Sen. Ron Rice, because of systemic racism in the criminal justice system. “I believe that every New Jerseyan and every public official concerned with the integrity and legitimacy of our democracy should be ashamed that this practice was born in 1844 at a time when slavery was legal and practiced in our state and has continued for 170 years,” said Rice, D-Essex.
Rice and state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, plan to introduce legislation to restore voting rights to people on parole, probation, or in prison.
North Jersey resident Ronald Pierce, who is on parole after a criminal conviction, said voting can be an effective part of rehabilitation for those who are incarcerated.
“When a person engages in meaningful dialogue about civic concerns, it opens them up to seeing beyond their personal needs and shifts their focus to issues that affect the community,” he said.