Common Dreams' Jessica Corbett Reports
Pro-democracy and criminal justice reform advocates celebrated Wednesday as Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill restoring the voting rights of tens of thousands of state residents on parole and probation, following the lead of over a dozen other states that allow those individuals to participate in political elections.
"On this historic day, New Jersey has lifted my colleague Ron Pierce—a veteran, husband, and college graduate—and 83,000 ghosts of democracy out of the shadows so that they can finally be seen, heard, and represented," Ryan P. Haygood, president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ), said in a statement.
"Two years after we and our partners launched the 1844 No More campaign—named for the year New Jersey denied the vote to people with convictions and restricted voting to white men in its Constitution—we are proud to stand with the governor and legislature in helping New Jersey to become 1844 no more," Haygood added.
Alongside the voting rights measure, A5823, Murphy also signed S4154, which reforms the state's expungement eligibility and procedures. The latter measure allows residents who have not committed an offense for 10 years to submit a petition for a "clean slate." Murphy backed both bills "as part of his Second Chance Agenda," according to a statement from his office.
"Our administration is deeply committed to transforming our criminal justice system, and today we are taking a historic step to give residents impacted by that system a second chance," Murphy said. "I am proud to sign one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, which will allow more New Jerseyans the opportunity to fully engage in our society. I am also proud to enact legislation that will restore voting rights to over 80,000 residents on probation or parole, allowing them to fully participate in our democracy."
"With the governor's signature, people who have been disenfranchised in every sense of the word regained the most fundamental power an individual can have in a democracy," Amol Sinha, who directs the state chapter of the ACLU, said of the voting rights legislation. "Some rights are too important to lose, and voting is one of them."
Sinha explained that "because this country's history of disenfranchisement has always been rooted in racial oppression, and because the effects of disenfranchisement today produce the same ends, this legislation is a critical, monumental step for racial justice and civil rights—one that advocates have worked for decades to achieve."