Robinette Barmer woke up in Baltimore last week with paralyzing arthritis, but she crawled out of bed anyway and kept moving until she was on the steps of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, shouting “Shame! Shame! Shame!” at Maryland’s governor. Barmer, 60, and the crowd around her hoped to persuade the legislature to override what’s become the most contentious veto issued by Gov. Larry Hogan, one that canceled a law granting voting rights to felons more quickly. Currently, they have to first finish their probation or parole. Of the six bills Hogan, a Republican, vetoed last year, none faces tougher odds for an override than two that would give 40,000 felons the right to vote before their sentences are complete.
All six are set for debate in the Democrat-dominated legislature this week. But no other issue has generated as much passion on both sides as the philosophical divide over the proper message to send ex-offenders who have yet to complete the terms of their release.
Proponents want to make them feel part of society again, arguing it will help them avoid going back to prison. Opponents say felons need to become productive members of society before they earn back the right to vote.
Two of Barmer’s sons and one grandson are ex-felons, and she said it’s her full-time job to make sure they don’t “get discouraged and commit a stupid crime” that sends them back to jail. Crucial to that, she said, is securing their right to vote.