LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Report highlights benefits of giving incarcerated people the right to vote

BY Leah Mishkin, Correspondent |

Over 102,000 people are denied the right to vote in New Jersey because of a criminal conviction, but a pending piece of legislation is looking to change that, as well as work toward correcting racial disparities in the political process.

The bill would grant people in prison, on parole or on probation in the state the right to vote again in their home communities. If they’re still in prison, they would vote by mail.

A report from the NJ Institute for Social Justice says a black adult in New Jersey is 12 times more likely to be sent behind bars than a white adult, while a black child is 30 times more likely than a white child to be detained or committed.

“So by connecting voting to the criminal justice system, New Jersey literally imports these racial disparities from the criminal justice system into the political process,” said president of the Social Justice Institute Ryan Haygood. “Ultimately the punishment for crimes in prison is confinement but you’re still a person.”

Consensus isn’t unanimous on the legislation, however, with Sen. Gerald Cardinale firmly on the side of opposition.

“I think it’s one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a longtime. Our democracy is based on the fact that people who vote, create the public policies, under which all of us agree to live,” said the 39th District Republican.

Cardinale acknowledges the racial disparities in criminal justice proceedings, but he says the solution is correcting the system so people are not wrongfully convicted.

Identical bills were introduced in the Senate and Assembly in March of last year. If signed into law, New Jersey would join Maine and Vermont in allowing people with a criminal conviction the right to vote.