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Call for Voting Restriction Reform for Felons

March 18, 2014 | Posted In Criminal Law

Depriving a person of a right, privilege, or immunity, is known as disenfranchisement, and this term is most commonly applied to the right to vote. In 35 states, laws have been enacted that disenfranchise convicted criminals and ex-criminals who are out on parole. Although the rules for restricting voting rights vary by state, New Jersey criminal lawyers say that the implication is clear—if you have been convicted of a crime, you run the risk of losing your right to vote at the state and federal level for an extended period of time. 

At a sentencing reform symposium last month, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr expressed a need to see an updated policy regarding the voting rights for felons in New Jersey and across the country. He urged lawmakers to reconsider what he called the “profoundly outdated…unjust, and counterproductive” restrictions that most states currently uphold, and reevaluate a necessary course of action for criminals who have been served their time. 

In New Jersey, convicted felons can have their right to vote restored after they have served their term of incarceration, as well as completed their parole and probationary periods. But during their trial, sentence, and while out on parole and probation, the New Jersey constitution prohibits those charged with criminal activity from participating in local, state, and federal elections. 19 other states have similar laws, that require felons to serve out their jail time, parole, and their probationary period before voting. 

In only two states—Maine and Vermont—do criminals have the right to vote even from behind bars, through absentee ballot. The others range in restriction from restoring voting rights once the jail sentence is up, or after parole requirements have been fulfilled, and in 11 states, voting rights are never restored for most felons, depending on the type of crime and the elapsed time since the jail sentence was served. 

In his speech, Holder said that “by perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these [voting] laws increase the likelihood [that] they will commit future crimes. The [restrictions] undermine the reentry process and defy the principles—of accountability and rehabilitation—that guide our criminal justice policies.” By cutting off these people from society, even after they have served their sentences, Holder argues that they will continue on their path, rather than embrace rehabilitation and change. 

Holder said that nearly 95 percent of all convicted criminals currently in jail will be released once their sentences are up. Right now, there are over 5.5 million people who have been paid back their debt to society for their crimes, in terms of jail time, fines, and probation, but still cannot vote. He claims that this right is crucial for reintegrating ex-cons into society. 

At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, our New Jersey criminal attorneys represent anyone who has been charged with a crime in the state, and faces the loss of rights, including the right to vote. If you are facing criminal charges, contact an HCK attorney today to discuss your case and determine your best options. 

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