New Jersey lawmakers are proposing a bill that would make the state the third in the country to allow prisoners the right to vote.
New Jersey has a severe racial disparity in its prison population despite similar offense rates between black and white residents. The disparities in the criminal justice system in New Jersey are some of the worst in the country.
The motion is being led by members of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus. If passed, New Jersey would follow Maine and Vermont in restoring the right to vote to individuals on probation and parole and in prison.
“There is no relationship between voting and committing crimes, to disenfranchise those who have made mistakes and are paying for them is wrong.” says New Jersey state Sen. Ron Rice, who is co-sponsoring the bill alongside state Sen. Sandra Cunningham and Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter.
Bill co-sponsor state Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson, said lawmakers introduced the bill on Monday to commemorate the 1869 passage by Congress of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote. She noted that New Jersey was one of seven states which initially opposed the amendment before approving it once it became law.
“We’re still refusing, 150 years later,” Cunningham said. “We haven’t grown at all.”
According to statistics highlighted by #1844NoMore supporters, black adults in New Jersey are 12 times more likely to be arrested than white adults and black youth are 30 times more likely to be arrested than white youth, even though data shows the two groups commit crimes at the same rate. Because of the disparities, nearly half of those barred from the ballot box because of criminal convictions are African-American.
New Jersey first prohibited people with criminal convictions from voting when it ratified a new state Constitution in 1844.
Research from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which supports the new legislation, shows 94,000 people with criminal convictions are currently denied the right to vote — a population larger than New Jersey’s state capital, Trenton.