Maryland state lawmakers have taken up legislation to allow felons to vote once they were released from prison. Currently, felons must wait for their parole or probation to run out. Jane Henderson, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform and executive director of Communities United, was surprised to learn that the legislation was getting action. She had assumed it would have been difficult to get the legislature to address the matter, let alone pass legislation. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed it in May, but she is optimistic that the legislature will override him, and soon. “By state constitution, they have to take it up soon when the next session starts in January,” Henderson told the Washington Examiner. “In the Senate, we’re fine. The House voted 82 for it and we need 85 … We’re very close.” If Maryland does approve the bill, the state would be the latest in an accelerating trend. Since 2009, six states have rolled back laws limiting felon voting rights.
In November, Democratic Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear signed an executive order restoring voting rights for people convicted of nonviolent offenses. In addition, a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union against Iowa’s highly restrictive felon voting rules is expected to be resolved by June.
In the last year, 56 bills relating to felon voting rights were introduced in 20 states, all but one specifically related to making voting easier, according to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures.
Such a trend would have been unthinkable as recently as the 1990s, when Democrats like President Bill Clinton tried to outbid Republicans on get-tough crime laws. That attitude faded as crime rates dropped nationally. Now even conservatives such as Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and the Koch brothers are pushing criminal justice reform as an issue.