The state Senate voted to restore voting rights to 83,000 New Jerseyans on parole and probation.
“I got to push the button to vote, and Sen. Cunningham blessed me with the ability to push the button to restore my right to vote today, which I didn’t expect waking up this morning,” said parolee Antonne Henshaw.
The Senate approval would mean Henshaw can vote for the first time after serving 30 years for murder; he will spend the rest of his life on parole.
“If this didn’t happen today, I would have never been given the opportunity to vote,” Henshaw said.
Two years ago, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice launched its “1844 No More” campaign, so called because 155 years ago, the state removed voting rights from convicts until they completed their sentences.
“Today, we made two groups of people that have been deemed invisible, visible again. We’ve been able to give them their dignity back,” said Richard Smith, president of NJ NAACP.
Bill sponsors insist the New Jersey ban disproportionately has harmed African Americans.
Assembly previously approved the measure
“So we know that half of those who can’t vote in New Jersey because of a criminal conviction are black,” said Ryan Haygood. “And even though black folks make up just 15 percent of the overall population, so we know that half of those who would be reinfranchised are African American, a significant increase. Right now … New Jersey denies the right to vote to more black people than were denied the right to vote before the 15th Amendment.”
Republicans argue that those with criminal convictions should finish their commitment to the state before being allowed to vote again.
“I am a ‘no’ on the bill today, but not a vehement ‘no,’” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth). “I think that there’s a real set of arguments here on both sides, but I’ve decided that I think it’s fair until someone’s sentence is completed, which is at the end of parole, that it’s reasonable for those voting restrictions to be in place.”
The full Assembly approved voting rights restoration in November. The legislation now awaits the signature of Gov. Phil Murphy, who has signed other bills into law to grow the voting population in the Garden State.