POLITICS & GOVERNMENT

Lawmakers restore voting rights to NJ parolees and probationers

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

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 approval would mean Henshaw can vote for the first time after serving 30 years for murder and 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 NJ Institute for Social Justice launched its 1844NoMore campaign. 155 years ago, the state took away voting rights for 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, the president of the NJ NAACP.

Bill sponsors insist the New Jersey ban disproportionately has harmed African Americans.

“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% of the overall population, so we know that half of those would be reinfranchised are African American. A significant increase. Right now, Michael, New Jersey denies the right to vote to more black people than were denied the right to vote before the 15th Amendment. ”

Republicans argue 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. “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 a governor who’s signed other bills in to law to grow the voting population in the Garden State.