With Election Day quickly approaching, advocates for the ex-offender community in Baltimore are ramping up to get the city’s share of more than 40,000 newly enfranchised citizens registered to vote.
“There is an intense effort from re-entry organizations, Maryland Justice Project, Out for Justice, Communities United, Marion House and others. I don’t think the numbers (of registered ex-offenders) has caught up with registration efforts on the ground,” said Monica Cooper, Co-founder of the Maryland Justice Project.
Neither the Baltimore City Board of Elections nor the Maryland State Board of Elections maintains data on ex-offender voter registration. Therefore, local grassroots organizations are left with the task of trying to keep tabs on the number of newly registered ex-offenders.
Cooper said that she is looking for support from the Baltimore City Democratic State Central Committee, the official voice of the Democratic Party in Baltimore City. Out for Justice and the Maryland Justice Project have reached out to the Committee with no response, lamented Cooper. “The effort should be to have high voter registration and voting turnout from everyone,” she said, hoping that the city’s Democratic Party would recognize the political power of the ex-offender community.
A town hall meeting to discuss voter registration efforts on behalf of the ex-offender community is scheduled for Oct. 10. at 7 p.m. at the Maryland ACLU’s Baltimore office. “We are working with Communities United, Out for Justice, The League of Women Voters, Common Cause Maryland and Maryland Working Families to sponsor a night of voter awareness, education and registration,” said Toni Holness, Interim Public Policy Director for the Maryland ACLU.
Kimberly Haven, executive director of Justice Maryland, is familiar with the lukewarm response of persons outside of the ex-offender community. “Nobody loses their citizenship as a result of incarceration,” Haven said.
“The effort should really be on making sure that the person who is not incarcerated has the right to vote.” Haven, a former felon, was part of the coalition of grassroots organizations and that fought for passage of SB 340/HB 980, the legislation that restored voting rights to roughly 40,000 Maryland ex-offenders.
State offices serving the ex-offender population are required to post notice of the legislation so returning citizens will be aware of their new eligibility. But Cooper and others said that there are still many that she serves who do not know their rights or the implication of their new found political power.
“A segment of our population is struggling, just trying to keep their lights on. We’re trying to reach them and tell them your vote. We want the returning community to see themselves as a viable voting bloc,” Cooper said.
The Prison Policy Initiative reports that more than two-thirds of Maryland’s Prison Population is from the City of Baltimore. Currently the District of Columbia and 13 states provide voting rights for citizens after their imprisonment has ended. Vermont and Maine permit current inmates to vote.