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Editorial Advisory Board: Instead of veto override, work for meaningful redemption reform

We believe the Maryland General Assembly should abandon the override of Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of Senate Bill 340 expanding voting rights to felons who have not completely served their sentences. Despite what override advocates suggest, the bill does little to expand voting rights for convicted felons and creates confusion for voters and elections boards.

Maryland has worked progressively to restore convicted felons’ right to vote. Beginning in 2002, the Maryland General Assembly began to repeal the lifetime prohibition established in the Maryland Constitution of 1851. In 2007, Maryland fully restored the right to vote to convicted felons who have completed the terms of their sentence, including active incarceration, parole or mandatory release, and probation. This was sensible public policy to help convicted persons who had served their time to rejoin legitimate, civil society.

Then came the last year’s General Assembly session and the twisted history of SB 340. As originally proposed, the bill mandated that the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services and the state Board of Elections facilitate the notification and registration of convicted felons who were eligible to vote. Expansion of the voting right prior to completing one’s sentence was not in the bill’s original language. SB 340 originally was designed to mandate that state agencies adopt procedures to facilitate notice and voter registration for qualified convicted felons, but the language was removed completely.

Instead, Democratic legislative leaders, led by Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore city, ignored  existing challenges to qualified voters and instead sought to expand voting rights to convicted felons who have not completed the full terms of their felony sentence. The likely outcome will mean more confusion for eligible voters and local election boards.

Probation and parole release are integral parts of criminal sentences in Maryland. Convicted felons bargain for shorter active incarceration by seeking periods of probation. Inmates advocate for parole release based on their promise to uphold the law while serving the balance of their sentences in the community. Probation and parole release provide important tests of a convicted person’s commitment to rehabilitation after active incarceration. If a parolee or probationer cannot successfully complete parole or probation, the violator will likely return to prison to complete the balance of his or her sentence and the right to vote will again be revoked.

According to the Justice Policy Institute, a prison reform think tank, Maryland has an annual recidivism rate of 40 percent, meaning 40 percent of inmates released from prison will re-offend or otherwise return to prison within three years, a number not statistically insignificant. SB 340 creates a potentially significant class of convicted felons whose right to vote will shift back and forth based on their compliance  with parole or probation. SB 340 further frustrates existing difficulties in the registration of qualifying convicted felons to vote by abandoning mandated guidelines that require  state agencies to adopt procedures promoting notification and registration. The result is legislatively-created voter registration chaos.

Conway justifies the veto override because, “Maryland needs to be more progressive.” She argues that Maryland’s voter registration system cannot distinguish between a felon on parole or probation and a felon who has completed his or her entire sentence, potentially leading to felons registering to vote when they are not eligible.

The perceived problem would be more easily solved by simply waiting for convicted felons to complete their sentences.

Editorial Advisory Board members Daniel F. Goldstein, Elizabeth Kameen, Ericka King, William Reynolds, Ferrier R. Stillman and Anwar L. Young did not participate in this decision.


James B. Astrachan, Chair

Wesley D. Blakeslee

Arthur F. Fergenson

Daniel F. Goldstein

Caroline Griffin

Elizabeth Kameen

Ericka King

Stephen Meehan

C. William Michaels

William Reynolds

Norman Smith

Tracy L. Steedman

H. Mark Stichel

Ferrier R. Stillman

Anwar L. Young

The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is composed of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent of The Daily Record. Through their ongoing exchange of views, members of the Board attempt to develop consensus on issues of importance to the Bench, Bar and public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. When they differ, majority views and signed rebuttals will appear. Members of the community are invited to contribute letters to the editor and/or columns about opinions expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.