During his State of the State address earlier this month, Gov. Phil Murphy voiced support for allowing convicted felons to have the right to vote after they’ve been released from prison and are on probation or parole.

New Jersey law requires felons to complete their sentence and no longer be on parole or probation in order to be able to register to cast a ballot.

Amol Sinha, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, supports the governor’s position.

“I don’t think anybody should ever lose the right to vote in this state. If somebody is eligible to vote, they should always be eligible," Sinha said.

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, said he believes there is nothing wrong with withholding the right to vote until someone who has committed a felony is no longer on parole.

“What is wrong with letting someone finish their debt to society before they vote?” he said. “Once you pay your debt to society then you’re reinstated as a citizen. But finish your sentence.”

Sinha argued that taking away someone’s right to vote doesn’t help to rehabilitate them and it doesn’t make sense from a punitive point of view, either.

“Studies show that allowing people to vote actually helps them in the rehabilitation process and actually helps them reenter society more successfully."

Sinha said we currently make dietary accommodations for people of different religions when they are incarcerated, we allow them to have legal representation, so there’s no reason why someone on parole or behind bars should not be able to cast a ballot if they so choose.

A report released last year by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice found almost 95,000 Garden State residents, most of them on probation or parole, are unable to vote.

Sinha added you are 12 times more likely to be incarcerated if you are black than if you are white in New Jersey, so voting rights is also a racial justice issue.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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