The Maryland Senate postponed a vote to overturn Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that granted voting rights to felons who are on parole and probation.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) asked for the delay until Tuesday because two of the 33 Democratic state senators, Paul G. Pinsky (Prince George’s) and Thomas M. Middleton (Charles), were absent. The override needs 29 votes to pass.
“The bill is critically important, and I think every senator should have the opportunity to vote on the bill,” said Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-Baltimore City), sponsor of the original bill.
Republican senators opposed the delay, arguing that the vote was scheduled and should take place as planned.
The vote would be the sixth veto override by the Democratic-controlled legislature, and it is expected to send a strong message to Hogan about the power that Democrats, still grappling with the Republican governor’s election and popularity, continue to wield in the State House.
The Senate passed the measure last year on a 29-to-18 vote, a veto-proof majority.
The governor vetoed the bill, arguing that former inmates who are released from prison on parole and probation have not finished their sentences and should not have their right to vote restored until they do.
Hogan said current law, which restores voting rights to felons who have completed parole and probation, strikes “the proper balance between the repayment of obligations to society for a felony conviction and the restoration of the various restricted rights.”
Advocates and lawmakers who support the override have said that felons on parole and probation are expected to be productive members of society and, in turn, should play a role in the democratic process.
“It doesn’t poll well, but it’s the right thing to do,” Miller said earlier this week.
Miller put off a vote on the override last month because there was a vacant seat in the Senate, and the body possibly would not have had the 29 votes needed for approval. Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery) was sworn in Thursday.
Zucker, who moved over from the House, will have the rare distinction of voting on a veto override as a delegate and a month later taking the same action as a senator. A librarian for the Department of Legislative Services could not find a similar instance occurring in Maryland in recent history. Miller said the state attorney general advised that Zucker’s votes are constitutional.
“It is important for us to make sure that voters aren’t disenfranchised,” Zucker said Thursday when asked about the critical role he will play in the override. “You have people who are on track, doing the right thing, and this gives them an opportunity” to vote.
Last month, the General Assembly voted to override vetoes on bills that dealt with public marijuana smoking and pot paraphernalia, police seizures of criminal assets, taxation of online hotel-booking services and funding to renovate an arts center in Annapolis.
Miller said that unlike the other five veto overrides, the felon voting bill is the only one that involves a “philosophical difference” between Hogan and the Democratic-controlled legislature.
Jane Henderson, executive director of Communities United, which has pushed for the override, said advocates will be scurrying to register the nearly 44,000 felons who will be eligible to vote once the veto is overturned. The law would take effect in 30 days, giving advocates about a month to register voters before the April primary deadline.
Henderson said providing felons with the right to vote “sends a clear message that they count and are citizens.”