People who are on parole or probation would regain the right to vote in New Jersey, under legislation approved Monday by the state Assembly that now heads to the Senate.

People in prison still wouldn’t be eligible to vote. Estimates of the number of people who would be affected by the bill vary, with lawmakers saying it could be 83,000 to 85,000 while the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services says around 79,000.

“The right to vote is not a privilege but a constitutional right for those who are citizens of this great state of New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic, who said the bill “makes perfect sense” for both fairness and restoring former inmates to society.

“I believe in this bill wholeheartedly because when we do something wrong and we go serve our time and we come back either on parole or probation, we are working, we are paying taxes,” said Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex. “And as a taxpayer, we have the right to vote. And they should have the same right because they’re paying the same taxes that we pay.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Morris, said the issue clearly isn’t the priority of the people of New Jersey.

“Today we are awarding voting rights to those who have not completely completed their debt to society,” Bramnick said.

Assemblyman Jay Webber said the bill is emblematic of why New Jerseyans resist the Democrats’ legislative agenda.

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“There is a reason why we have a saying in our language that is used to denote something that is absurd. We say, ‘The inmates are running the asylum.’ This bill literally allows the inmates to run the asylum,” Webber said.

Assemblyman Jamel Holley, D-Union, said no one is perfect and everyone deserves a second chance.

“Today you’re restoring the rights of a human being who made a mistake. That, to me, is not about being a Democratic agenda,” Holley said.

Democrats won 52 of 80 seats in the Assembly elections three weeks ago, two fewer than two years ago. The party’s candidates received 55% of the unofficial vote, 304,300 more than Republicans.

The bill passed 48-24. The vote was generally along party lines, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The only exceptions were that Democrats Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling, both D-Monmouth, voted no.

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Eight Assembly members didn’t vote. Six were absent from the session. Two – Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, and Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen – were present for the session.

The bill was one of four that would benefit current or former prison inmates approved Monday by the Assembly.

The others would make prisoners eligible for student financial aid, decrease prison terms for some parole violations described as technical and create ways for inmates to earn an early release.

“I think our priorities are a little screwed up today,” said Assemblyman Hal Wirths, R-Sussex. “It’s like Criminal Appreciation Day.”

New Jersey: Decoded cuts through the cruft and gets to what matters in New Jersey news and politics. Follow on Facebook and Twitter.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at

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