Report Profiles Over 30 People Denied the Vote and Urges Passage of Pending Legislation for Rights Restoration

Newark – The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice today released Value to the Soul: People With Criminal Convictions on the Power of the Vote. A pdf of the report can be found here.

The report profiles over 30 people impacted by the denial of the vote – men and women, young, old, Black, white, and Latinx, in prison and out – whose voices have been silenced by the denial of the vote due to criminal convictions. It argues for the passage of pending legislation (S2100/A3456) in New Jersey that would restore the right to vote to people in prison, on parole, and on probation.

“People who are denied the vote are essentially ghosts in New Jersey’s democracy. Their lives are directly and severely impacted by elected officials, yet they have no say in choosing them. Their political voices have been stolen from them,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “They are ghosts because New Jersey suppresses their right to vote such that they are not seen, heard, or represented.”

More than 102,000 people are denied the vote in New Jersey due to criminal convictions. Almost half are Black, compared to just 15% of New Jersey’s population. New Jersey directly imports the racism of the criminal justice system into the sacred franchise.

“Due to population changes, New Jersey suppresses the voting rights of more Black people today than it prohibited from voting prior to the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870. Our report urges New Jersey to pass pending legislation that will finally raise all of democracy’s ghosts out of the shadows so that they can be seen, heard, represented, and vote in their home communities.”

The report is part of the 1844 No More campaign, named for the year the vote was first denied to people with criminal convictions in New Jersey – the same year the State restricted the vote to white men in its Constitution.

“The vote has value to the soul,” said Ronald W. Pierce, Democracy & Justice Fellow at the Institute. “To strip an individual of the fundamental right to vote is to deny that individual their personhood. There’s a reason the Ancient Greeks called it a civic death.”

Pierce, who spent 30 years incarcerated and is currently on parole and denied the right to vote, added, “The vote brings a sense of connection to, and agency in, the world around us, which is vital to the rehabilitation and re-entry of incarcerated people back into society.”

“New Jersey’s denial of the vote to people with criminal convictions does not serve the well-recognized criminal justice goal of rehabilitation,” said Henal Patel, Associate Counsel at the Institute. “In fact, it undermines it.”

Studies have shown that those who vote are less likely to be involved in crime, and that there is a proportionate relationship between having the right to vote and reducing recidivism.

As a result of advocacy by the 1844 No More campaign, New Jersey legislators have introduced S2100/A3456 to restore voting rights to those in prison, on parole, and on probation. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Ronald L. Rice (LD28), Sen. Sandra B. Cunningham (LD31), Asw. Shavonda E. Sumter (LD 35), Asw. Cleopatra G. Tucker (LD 28), and Asm. Jamel C. Holley (LD 20), in addition to several co-sponsors.

In addition to that legislation, the report calls for the passage of A1987, already passed by the New Jersey Senate, which would end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering – counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison for legislative redistricting purposes instead of at their home address. Currently, elected officials benefit from incarcerated people being counted in their districts, but those same incarcerated people do not have a say in who represents them.

Along with the Institute, advocates from Salvation & Social Justice, NAACP State Conference, ACLU of New Jersey, LatinoJustice PRLDEF and League of Women Voters of NJ have been championing the voting rights restoration legislation as part of the 1844 No More campaignMore than 100 national, state and local organizations have signed on to support it, including ACLU, NAACP LDF, The Sentencing Project, and Prison Policy Initiative. The International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers, also a supporter, has filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights arguing that denying voting rights because of a criminal conviction in New Jersey is a violation of international law, which recognizes the right to vote as a fundamental human right.

“It is time for New Jersey to join Vermont, Maine, and other western democracies by severing the tie between the criminal justice system and the right to vote,” said Patel. “It is time for New Jersey to declare for once and for all that it is 1844 no more.”

The following are samples from the more than 30 quotes in Value to the Soul:

Losing my most fundamental human right – the right that protects all other rights – made me less than a full citizen, a member of the marginalized society. To restore the franchise to me would make my voice – once again – relevant.

Ronald W. Pierce, Disfranchised since 1987, Served 30 years

Until [I am able to vote] I am relegated to the ranks of the three-fifths society.

Charmaine Daniels, Disfranchised since 2015, Serving 10-year sentence

I am unable to lead by example and show my family the importance of voting, especially in local elections…As long as the vote is denied to me, I will always feel as an enslaved person on the fringe of society. My vote is my voice.

Morris Jackmon, Disfranchised since 1993, Serving 33-year sentence

When my children showed pride in voting for the first time, I felt left out, not able to relate to their elation, and somewhat ashamed. I’ve come to understand the importance of my vote through my children’s eyes.

Rodney “Prince” Williford, Disfranchised since 1995, Serving 72-year sentence

Having a voice and being able to vote for candidates that reflect what is best for my community should not be treated as a ‘privilege,” but as an American right.

Sean Farrell, Always Disfranchised, Serving life sentence

Voting is your way to combat injustice and it is fundamentally one of the most important rights you have as an American, as a human. To remove it as a ‘collateral consequence’ lessens it to merely a privilege.

Denice R. Taylor, Disfranchised since 2012, Serving 10-year sentence