Overall, 5.28 percent of New Jersey’s Black voting age population was denied the right to vote in the 2016 Presidential election, a rate over twice that of many of our neighbors in the Northeast.
“Denying people the right to vote because of a criminal conviction is not only anti-democratic but it is immoral. The right to vote is a fundamental right,” added Rev. Charles Boyer, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Woodbury. “Due, in part, to systemic racism in the criminal justice system, this fundamental right is being denied to a disproportionate number of Black New Jerseyans.”
New Jersey currently denies the right to vote to more than 94,000 people with criminal convictions—more than the total population of Trenton, the state’s capital, according to theInstitute’s report
“As a formerly incarcerated person who now leads two successful businesses and works to help people returning from prison develop job and leadership skills, I can tell you that being part of the community and having a voice in the decisions that shape that community is essential to successful rehabilitation and reentry,” said Tracey Syphax, an entrepreneur, author, motivational speaker, and a White House “Champion of Change” honoree.
Institute Legal Intern and Rutgers University student Ronald Pierce is denied the right to vote because he is currently on parole.
“This law strikes at the very heart of what it means to be a human being,” said Pierce. “What is a democracy if you don’t have the right to vote? To strip an individual of their fundamental right to vote is to deny that individual their personhood. To vote has value to the soul.”
Almost eighty organizations have signed on in support of restoring voting rights to people on parole, on probation, and in prison, including direct service organizations, student groups, the business community, the re-entry and corrections field, labor, racial justice groups, women’s organizations, and many others.
“The broad support that we’ve seen from the community—almost eighty organizations in support—is a testament to how deeply New Jersey residents value the fundamental right to vote,” said Institute Associate Counsel Scott Novakowski, primary author of the Institute’s report, We Are 1844 No More: Let Us Vote
. “Just as we do not deny a person the fundamental right to medical care or the right to practice their religion on account of a felony conviction, we should not deny people their fundamental democratic voice. We can, and must, do better.”
“This is a matter of democracy,” said Jesse Burns, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. “By restoring the right to vote to people with convictions, this bill will help create a more inclusive democracy in New Jersey.”
National organizations, including Demos, the ACLU, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have also endorsed the campaign to restore voting rights to people with convictions in New Jersey.
“When more citizens are able to participate in our democracy, we strengthen our core values of justice, fairness, and inclusivity,” said Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We applaud Senators Rice and Cunningham, and Assemblywoman Sumter, for introducing this important legislation. Criminal disfranchisement laws are rooted in the post-Civil War era, were used to prevent freed slaves from voting, and have disproportionate impact on African Americans. We urge swift passage of this legislation to ensure that all people are able to participate fully in their democracy.”
Note to reporters: When referring to people who are denied the right to vote we politely ask that you use the following phrases: people with convictions, people on parole, people on probation, people in prison, or people who are incarcerated. We kindly ask you to avoid dehumanizing language like convicts, criminals, or felons.