Advocates fight for voting rights of people in prison, awaiting trial and with criminal records
MARYLAND – Advocates are fighting to get ballots in the hands of Marylanders who are currently in jail as well as those who have been released. Officials say countless eligible voters continue to be denied the right to vote but a few organizations have launched a new campaign to change that.
“Historically, the right to vote and participate in democracy has been shamefully denied to thousands of people across the state of Maryland who are incarcerated,” says Dana Vickers Shelley, the Executive Director, ACLU Maryland.
Maryland voting rights organizations have formed the Expand the Ballot Coalition and they’re announcing a statewide campaign, making sure eligible voters who are incarcerated are not denied their right to vote.
“Although the laws have changed so that people who were formerly incarcerated and are not currently serving a felony conviction, they can register and vote, there is still too much confusion about these laws,” says Vickers Shelley.
The Coalition says, for the first time, the Maryland State Board Elections has agreed to work with advocates to provide eligible incarcerated voters access to voting materials for the general election but advocates say that’s not enough.
“What we need to make this a complete process is to have in legislation that the Department of Corrections commits to having a person who is responsible for making sure that these materials are distributed to the people that are incarcerated,” says Nancy Soreng with the League of Women Voters Maryland.
Advocates have also presented a timeline to the Board of Elections including recommendations for when wardens should be sent instructions on how to facilitate voting, when drop boxes should be made available as well as how often ballots should be picked up before Election Day.
“It’s important that people who are subjected to policies, people who are subjected to laws, that they have a voice in who represents them,” says Monica Cooper with the Maryland Justice Project.
Advocates say they’re also pushing for legislation that would create a reporting system requiring the State Board of Elections to do an annual audit to see which percentage of eligible incarcerated voters participate each year.
In response to this the Maryland State Board of Elections says, “The State Board of Elections works to provide all eligible voters, including eligible individuals in detention centers, with the opportunity to register and vote. We are in the process of sending forms to register to vote and vote by mail to detention centers across the State to ensure that eligible individuals in these facilities can participate in the upcoming election. The State Board of Elections will review the recommendations in the letter and respond accordingly.”