On the eve of what is expected to be a close vote in the Maryland Senate to expand felon voting rights, some Republicans are raising questions about whether a newly appointed Democratic senator should participate.
Joe Cluster, executive director of the state GOP, said Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery) should recuse himself when the Senate votes on whether to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a 2015 bill that would allow felons to vote while on parole or probation.
Zucker voted in favor of the override as a member of the House of Delegates last month, before he was sworn in to fill a Senate seat vacated by former senator Karen Montgomery (D-Montgomery). Democratic leaders have said they will need his support to amass the 29 votes needed for the override to pass the Senate.
Although an attorney for the General Assembly said there is no legal reason Zucker can’t vote both as a delegate and a senator, Custer said the lawmaker “should recuse himself. He’s already gotten a vote.”
In a letter to Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore County) on Friday, General Assembly counsel Sandra Benson Brantley wrote that “if the Senate considers the individual in question a member of the Senate when the veto override is taken, his or her vote should be considered a valid vote.”
“Although there is a potential counterargument that allowing a legislator to vote twice on the same legislation violates the requirement that the two houses of the Legislature be ‘distinct,’ the more reasonable and persuasive view is that a member of the Senate who was appointed to fill a vacancy . . . may vote as the qualified Senator of his or her district,” the letter said.
Hogan (R) has been outspoken in defending his veto of the original bill to expand felon voting rights, saying he does not believe felons should be able to vote until their entire sentence is complete.
The governor has written frequently about the issue on his Facebook page, and on Monday posted several items by other Republicans calling on the Senate not to override or saying Zucker should abstain.
The House voted to override Hogan’s veto last month. The Senate delayed its vote until Zucker was sworn in, and then postponed a vote scheduled for Friday after two senators — both of whom voted in favor of the original bill — were absent.
Zucker said Monday that he will vote for the override, which would give nearly 44,000 felons who are on parole and probation the opportunity to vote. Noting that his predecessor voted in favor of the original bill, Zucker said Montgomery “would have been voting for the veto override, and I plan to do the same.”
Zucker said Brantley’s legal opinion “was straightforward in my mind.”
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert), who has served in the General Assembly for nearly 50 years, said last week that he could not recall a similar situation where a lawmaker voted on an override in both chambers. But Zucker would be within the law to vote on the override two times, first as a delegate and now as a senator, he said.
An advocate for the expansion of voting rights said she was more concerned about the snowy forecast Tuesday causing a senator to be absent and forcing another delay than she was about Republican efforts to try to stop the vote.
“I appreciate it’s something they can scream about, but it’s not going to change the 29 votes,” said Jane Henderson, executive director of Communities United, a Baltimore-based group that helps former inmates reenter society.