July 3, 2018
Institute Associate Counsel Scott Novakowski presented testimony to the New Jersey Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights urging the Committee to examine the racially disparate impact of New Jersey’s law that denies the fundamental right to vote to people with criminal convictions. To read Scott’s full testimony, please click here.
An excerpt of his testimony is below:
Laws that deny people the right to vote based on a criminal conviction have their origin in the ancient Greek concept of “civil death,” under which a person with a criminal conviction lost all political, civil, and legal rights.1 While many aspects of civil death have appropriately been abandoned over the years, felony disfranchisement—the practice of denying the right to vote to people with criminal convictions—remains.
New Jersey’s law disqualifies people from voting when they are in prison, and when they are on parole or probation for a felony.
By linking the right to vote with a criminal justice system that is infected with racial discrimination, New Jersey’s felony disfranchisement law imports inequality into the political process in a manner that disproportionately reduces Black political power, all while failing to achieve any legitimate public safety purpose.
The Institute urges the New Jersey State Advisory Committee to address felony disfranchisement as one of its priority issues, and to urge New Jersey’s elected officials to restore the fundamental right to vote to more than 94,000 people in prison, on parole, and on probation.