About 44,000 former prisoners who are on probation or parole will be able to register to vote in Maryland starting next month, after the state Senate on Tuesday overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a 2015 voting-rights bill.
Hogan, a first-term Republican, campaigned hard against the override effort, arguing that felons should not regain voting rights until they complete parole and probation, which he considers part of their punishment.
On Tuesday, Hogan said “only a tiny, radical minority” of Marylanders support the expansion of voting rights encompassed in the bill and predicted that several lawmakers “won’t survive this vote. They have no chance of being reelected after this vote today.”
Twenty-nine of the 33 Democrats in the Senate voted in favor of the override, which puts Maryland in the company of the District and 13 other states, including Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania, that permit people to vote as soon as they are released from prison, according to the Sentencing Project.
Eighteen other states, including New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas, restrict voting rights until after a person finishes parole and probation. Twelve others, including Florida, have stronger restrictions, such as waiting periods after a sentence is completed.
“This is a huge victory for voting rights,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Communities United, a Baltimore-based group that helps former inmates reenter society.
Noting racial disparities in the criminal justice system, Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore) called the override “the right thing to do.”
The Democratic-controlled legislature has now overturned all six of Hogan’s vetoes from last year, a pointed reminder to the governor that each legislative chamber has enough Democrats for a veto-proof majority.
In the case of the voting-rights override, there was not an extra vote to spare in the Senate, and the vote was delayed more than once to ensure enough supporters were present.
Half of the felons who will be able to vote as a result of the Maryland legislation live in Baltimore, a city that has been at the center of the national discussion over police brutality and criminal justice reform. On Tuesday, about a dozen felons watched the vote from the Senate gallery.
“They gave me my voice back, and I’m going to let it ring,” said Marcus Toles, 22, who was released from prison last August and will be on parole until November.
Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) said he voted for the measure because “it’s a good bill” that takes away any question about whether people can vote if they have a criminal history. He said he previously met a man who had been out of prison for 11 years and did not know whether he was allowed to vote.
The House voted last month to override Hogan’s veto of the bill. The Senate postponed a scheduled vote last week because two supporters of the override were absent.
On Monday, some Republicans questioned whether newly appointed Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery), a former delegate who had voted for the override in the House, should recuse himself from the Senate vote. An attorney for the General Assembly said there was no problem with him voting twice.
There was a slight glitch when Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Prince George’s) left the floor before the final vote was taken. The vote was called without him and received only 28 votes, one short of the three-fifths majority that is needed.
Once Peters returned, he asked Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) to reconsider the measure. It then passed with the needed 29 votes.
The bill will take effect in 30 days, leaving advocates scurrying to identify and register former inmates to vote in time for the April 26 primary.
“These folks are my neighbors,” said Del. Cory V. McCray (D-Baltimore), who was arrested as a teenager for dealing drugs and sponsored the House version of the bill. “I’m glad that when these neighbors came looking for somebody to hear their point of view that it didn’t fall on deaf ears with the General Assembly.”