State Watch

New Jersey governor signs voting rights restoration bill

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New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on Wednesday signed legislation that will restore voting rights to more than 80,000 residents who are on probation or parole.
The measure, which takes effect in March, will make New Jersey the 19th state to allow those who have been released from prison to reclaim their right to vote while they serve on probation or parole. 
“Our administration is deeply committed to transforming our criminal justice system, and today we are taking a historic step to give residents impacted by that system a second chance,” Murphy said in a statement.
Voting rights advocates hailed the bill as a step toward rehabilitating those who have served their time.
“By signing this bill, Gov. Murphy has given more than 80,000 people a voice in the decisions that affect them and their families. New Jerseyans should feel proud to welcome all of these people back into our democracy,” said Myrna Perez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
Restoring voting rights for former felons has become the latest front in the push for greater access to the ballot box. Earlier this month, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear (D) issued an executive order allowing those who have served their sentences to regain the franchise.
Florida voters amended their state’s constitution in 2018 to permit former felons to vote, though the state legislature has sought to require people to pay court fees and fines before they get the vote back. Legislators in Nevada and Louisiana passed laws this year allowing former felons to vote, and Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has made restoring the franchise a key priority.
Murphy on Wednesday also signed legislation that would allow a former felon to have their record expunged if they do not commit another offense for 10 years. That measure does not include those who have been convicted of the most heinous crimes, but it automatically seals records of low-level marijuana convictions after sentences have been served.
Backers of both bills said they would help address historic burdens on the African American community.
“For centuries, the black community has been disproportionately affected by this voting prohibition and onerous expungement process. I am relieved that these discriminatory barriers are finally being eliminated in New Jersey,” said Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver (D), who oversees the Department of Community Affairs. 
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