More than 40,000 recently released Maryland felons will regain the right to vote in time for this year’s election. The legislature on Tuesday narrowly overturned Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill to extend voting rights to felons before they complete probation and parole. The reversal both dealt a political blow to the Republican governor, who lobbied to prevent the bill from becoming law, and set the stage for an estimated 20,000 former inmates to cast ballots in Baltimore’s primary election for mayor and City Council this spring. The issue drew passionate debate from both sides on the proper message to send former inmates rejoining society. The bill was the sixth that Hogan vetoed from last year’s General Assembly, and the sixth the Democratic-controlled legislature reinstated this year. The House of Delegates voted to override Hogan’s veto last month, and on Tuesday, the Senate voted 29-18 to overrule the governor.
The vote, twice delayed in order to muster enough support, followed an expansive debate that touched on resolving racial disparities in the criminal justice system and protecting victims of violent crime. The current system requires felons to complete probation and parole before registering to vote. But proponents argued that the system is confusing, unnecessary and demoralizing to ex-offenders trying to rebuild their lives.
Opponents of the law, which will go into effect March 10, said felons should earn back the right to vote only after completing their sentences.