- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 7, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Twice-convicted felons would be allowed to vote in Maryland under a bill that the General Assembly voted final approval yesterday.
Felons convicted of a second violent crime would be permanently barred from voting, but felons convicted of a second nonviolent felony would be allowed to vote three years after completing their sentences and paying any fines and restitution.
The House of Delegates last month approved a bill that would have restored voting rights to two-time felons as soon as they finished their sentence, regardless of the crime.
Yesterday the House took a final vote, agreeing with the Senate to bar two-time violent offenders.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has said he would sign the measure.
The move would reduce to 12 the number of states that restrict all felons from voting after they have served their sentences. Virginia is one of those 12. The District restores voting rights after a felon's sentence ends.
Since 1974, Maryland has allowed anyone convicted of one "infamous" crime to vote after paying his penalty but has barred two-time convicts.
A crime is classified as "infamous" if it involves deceit, but the category encompasses a broad range of offenses from passing bad checks to rape and murder. Roughly 500 offenses qualify as infamous crimes, according to the state's attorney general.
The Legislative Black Caucus pushed for the bill, arguing that current law unfairly disenfranchises many ex-convicts who have paid their debt and even changed their lives.
Caucus members said the bill was a voting rights issue because black defendants have been convicted at higher rates than white defendants in the criminal justice system.
As introduced, both the House and Senate bills would have restored the vote to persons convicted of any crime, regardless of previous offenses, as soon as they finished their sentences.
Sen. Delores G. Kelley, a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the Senate bill, said some clergy are upset that the bill was weakened at all. Those clergy members said the original proposal followed Judeo-Christian principles of redemption.
The push to restore felons' voting rights has become a national issue over the last three years.
A panel led by former Presidents Gerald R. Ford and Jimmy Carter recommended that former felons be allowed to vote.
In some states, advocates have even protested requiring convicts to finish paying fines before voting. They argued that requiring fine payment first amounted to an unconstitutional poll tax of sorts. And besides, they said it was unfair because felons often cannot find full employment after they are released.
Virginia recently modified its prohibition on allowing felons to vote. they are now allowedto seek recovery of that right in court rather than through a pardon from the governor.
In the past year, felon voting bans were overturned in Delaware, Connecticut and New Mexico.
Conservative Maryland lawmakers argued that people convicted of some heinous crimes such as murder and rape had broken their contract with society, and that even if God forgave them, they should not regain certain societal rights.
Some black Maryland legislators argued that voting is a commitment to participating in society and can help encourage ex-convicts to fulfill their personal and social responsibilities.
Restriction of voting rights is estimated to disenfranchise about 13 percent of black men nationwide a proportion about twice that of the general population, according to the D.C.-based Sentencing Project.

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