Chairman Beach, Vice-Chair Cruz-Perez, and Senators Brown, Stack, and Thompson: Thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony to the Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee in support of S-2100, historic legislation that will restore the fundamental right to vote to nearly 100,000 people in prison, on parole, or on probation.
I am Ryan P. Haygood, President and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice (the “Institute). Established twenty years ago by Alan V. and Amy Lowenstein, the Institute is a legal advocacy organization that seeks to ensure that urban residents live in a society that respects their humanity, provides equality of economic opportunity, empowers them to use their voice in the political process, and protects equal justice.
At the time of our nation’s founding, New Jersey stood out for having the most expansive voting rights of all 13 states. In 1776, our state’s first constitution allowed some women and free Black men to vote.
However, over time, New Jersey erected a wall of democratic exclusion that limited the franchise to white men.
Today, New Jersey stands far behind many of our sister states, despite the ideals of democracy embedded in New Jersey’s first constitution at the time of its founding.
For example, in one of the greatest expansions of democracy in history, Florida voters recently overturned a Jim Crow law and restored the right to vote to 1.5 million people with convictions.
Last year, the Louisiana legislature passed a bill with bipartisan support to restore voting rights to 43,000 people on parole and on probation.
And in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order restoring the right to vote to 35,000 people on parole.
In all, 23 states have restored the fundamental right to vote to people with convictions over the past 20 years.
Now it is New Jersey’s turn.