New Jersey looks at restoring voting rights to offenders

New Jersey Sen. Ron Rice is sponsoring a bill that would restore voting rights to those on parole, probation or  in prison. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

New Jersey Sen. Ron Rice is sponsoring a bill that would restore voting rights to those on parole, probation or in prison. (Phil Gregory/WHYY)

Some New Jersey lawmakers are introducing legislation to restore voting rights to those with criminal convictions.

The measure would end the practice of barring residents on parole, probation or in prison from casting a ballot, said bill sponsor Sen. Ron Rice.

“There is no relationship between voting and committing crimes,” said Rice, D-Essex. “To disenfranchise those who have made mistakes and are paying for them is wrong. ”

African-Americans are disproportionately denied the right to vote because of a criminal conviction, said Sen. Sandra Cunningham, D-Hudson.

“The fundamental problem is the linking of voting rights and a criminal justice system characterized by gross racial disparities,” she said. “It is that fundamental problem we must address.”

Ron Pierce can’t vote because he’s on parole after being imprisoned more than 30 years.

“This law strikes at the heart of what it means to be a citizen. What is citizenship in a democracy if you don’t have a right to vote? To strip an individual of their fundamental right to vote is to deny that individual their personhood,” he said. “To vote has value to the soul. It brings a connectedness with it.”

Bergen County Republican Sen. Gerald Cardinale, who opposes the legislation, said prisoners should not have a part in elections and public policy.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.