ANNAPOLIS — Democratic lawmakers and church leaders yesterday called for more voting rights for ex-felons in Maryland.
“We’ve got to do everything we possibly can to ensure that these men and women are given every opportunity to be fully and positively reintegrated into our communities,” said Bishop Adam Jefferson Richardson of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was joined at the state Capitol by about 400 other religious leaders, including many from black churches.
Maryland law now requires former felons who have been convicted twice to wait three years before they can vote again. Felons serving sentences are not allowed to vote.
Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt and Delegate Justin D. Ross, Prince George’s County Democrats, have proposed barring from voting only felons serving sentences.
Similar proposals have failed in previous General Assembly sessions.
Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, had breakfast with church leaders yesterday morning. However, administration spokesman Steve Kearney said Mr. O’Malley was noncommittal about the proposal.
“We’ll be reviewing those bills,” he said.
Supporters of the idea referred to the civil rights movement and Black History Month when talking about the more than 85,000 blacks in the state who are barred from voting.
“It’s all about just keeping them wallowing in the mud,” said Sen. Verna L. Jones, a Baltimore Democrat.
Republican lawmakers do not support allowing violent offenders to vote.
“Repeat offenders, who are rapists and murderers and violent offenders, have demonstrated they can’t govern themselves,” said House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, Southern Maryland Republican. “Why would [we] let these violent offenders get involved in the self-governance of our democracy?”
It is uncertain whether the proposals will pass.
Sen. Ulysses Currie, Prince George’s Democrat, said party members will have to reach across the aisle to garner support.
“We’re going to have to work with the Republican Party,” he said.
According to the Sentencing Project, one of the advocacy groups supporting the proposals, three states deny voting rights to all ex-offenders, while 48 states prohibit inmates from voting while serving a sentence.