Several legislators and a coalition of some 80 organizations launched this week an effort to give the right to vote back to people on parole, on probation, and serving prison time for a felony conviction.
Currently, a person loses the right to vote once judged guilty of crimes of at least the fourth degree – that includes hoplifting worth $200 or more through murder. They cannot vote again until completing their entire sentence; that extends to any parole or probation served outside of incarceration.
More than 94,000 New Jerseyans are currently barred from voting due to the prohibition, which dates back to 1844.
Advocates and lawmakers, all members of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, say giving these people back the right to vote is a civil rights issue. No one should lose the right to vote, they say, and this disenfranchisement disproportionately hurts African-Americans because they are overrepresented in the state’s justice system.
Opponents say the loss of the right to vote is a just punishment for committing a serious crime, and the current system, which allows people to re-register to vote after having served all the terms of their sentence, is appropriate and working well.