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A Push to Help Eligible Marylanders Vote, Even from Jail

At least 7,000 people in Maryland jails awaiting trial have the right to vote. A coalition wants to make sure they are able to do so. (Adobe Stock)
At least 7,000 people in Maryland jails awaiting trial have the right to vote. A coalition wants to make sure they are able to do so. (Adobe Stock)
September 16, 2020

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- As Election Day approaches, a coalition of voting-rights groups is urging Maryland's Board of Elections to help eligible citizens vote when they're incarcerated or newly released.

The groups have outlined a plan to ensure voting rights for people in the criminal-justice system, including secure ballot boxes at all correctional facilities.

Qiana Johnson, executive director of Life after Release in Prince George's County, one of the groups behind the plan, said she is concerned that state and local detention facilities won't uphold the law that gives these folks the right to vote.

"It's unacceptable for the state and local officials to not have a plan for individuals who are currently being held pre-trial, who have not yet been convicted of a crime." she said.

The coalition, which includes criminal-justice groups and Maryland's NAACP, wants the board to support nonpartisan educational materials, and add voter information and complaint hotlines to local detention facilities' free-call lists.

Earlier this year, Maryland lawmakers failed to pass a bill that would have put procedures in place to ensure ballot access for people in jail or prison, or just released.

Tierra Bradford, public-policy manager for Common Cause Maryland, said it would have been a first step toward putting a vote-by-mail process for them in place.

"The legislation we were trying to pass had a reporting system requiring that the State Board of Elections do an annual audit, just to see who was voting, and making sure that the voting process was actually taking place each year for the election," she said.

About 47,000 Marylanders, either being held pre-trial or with felony convictions who haven't completed their probation process, have the right to vote, according to Common Cause Maryland. In 2016, felons regained their voting rights in the state as soon as they leave prison.

The coalition letter is online at commoncause.org.

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Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - MD