Under current New Jersey law, people who have been convicted of a crime, served time in jail and then are either on parole or probation are not allow to vote. But that could soon be changing.

The Assembly Appropriations Committee on Thursday gave the green light to a measure that removes the prohibition on voting by individuals on parole or probation due to a conviction for an indictable offense under any federal or state law.

In the Garden State, indictable offenses — or felonies — are crimes that range from the fourth to the first degree.

According to Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, D-Passaic, a prime sponsor of the proposed bill, the law that exists today was established in 1844.

“It is not rooted in anything other than being punitive and not rehabilitative. It really does not allow a voice for those persons who are under-represented," she said.

She said people released from prison “have paid their debt to society, and for this it creates a disenfranchisement that perpetuates not feeling whole as a human being, not feeling part of your community.”

She said her measure is part of an effort to ensure that people have a right that should not have been taken away in the first place.

"I think that’s restorative justice. I think that’s helping people to stay out of prison and to be a part of their communities. It’s value-added and creating wellness within all of our communities.”

She said changing the current law would impact 80,000 people in New Jersey, 50% of them being African American.

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Her legislation would permit those on parole or probation to vote in any primary, municipal, special or general election.

Some Republicans are opposed to the measure.

Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and Dave Wolfe, and state Sen. Jim Holzapfel, all representing Ocean County, issued a statement blasting the proposed legislation.

Holzapfel, a former Ocean County prosecutor, said that “by removing one of the important penalties associated with criminal convictions, Democrats would eliminate a significant deterrent to committing crime that could negatively impact public safety.”

McGuckin said “this legislation is a dangerous first step by Democrats that will lead to incarcerated prisoners voting from their jail cells.”

Wolfe said that “this is all part of the false narrative being advanced by the progressive Democrats who run New Jersey that criminals are the real victims.”

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

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