Maryland Lawmakers Fail to Pass Voter Reg. for Returning Citizens

The Maryland Senate failed to pass a bill that would have guaranteed access to voter registration and the ballot for justice-impacted residents by expanding automatic voter registration policies to include the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), which manages all state correctional facilities (HB 627). The bill passed the House with overwhelming support in March.

Maryland would have become the second state to include state correctional facilities under automatic voter registration, following a similar initiative in Michigan. 

“Maryland had an opportunity to prioritize access to voter registration for those impacted by the criminal legal system, but let politics get in the way,” said Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “Eligible voters are being released from correctional facilities throughout the state on a daily basis, and most are unaware that their right to vote has been restored. The Senate failed those voters, most of whom are Black, by choosing to take no action on a reform that was unopposed. If the Senate is serious about expanding participation in our democracy for all, they must include our loved ones, friends, and neighbors who have spent time in correctional facilities.” 

“Everyone deserves to have a fair say in the decisions that shape the lives of our children and families,” said Keshia Morris Desir, justice and democracy manager at Common Cause. “This bill was a signal of hope to Maryland’s most silenced populations currently left out of the process due to past criminal convictions.” 

“Voting is a fundamental human right in America, not a privilege for a select group of citizens. It is a shame that Maryland lawmakers chose not to advance this legislation, which would both make our democracy more representative and make our communities safer by promoting community involvement and integration,” said Nicole D. Porter, Senior Director of Advocacy with The Sentencing Project. “We are grateful to Del. Jheanelle Wilkins for sponsoring this bill and for all the advocates who fought so hard to pass this legislation. It is time for Maryland to stop perpetuating an anti-democratic system of marginalization and exclusion and instead ensure that every individual can cast their ballot.”

The National Voting in Prison Coalition previously endorsed this bill. Earlier this month, Morris Desir and Porter testified in support of HB 1022, legislation that would guarantee ballot access for eligible voters in local correctional facilities by supporting and facilitating jail and prison voter registration and voting initiatives. 

The legislation was also supported by the Expand the Ballot, Expand the Vote coalition which was founded by and is led by formerly incarcerated individuals and organizations representing the interests of formerly and currently incarcerated Marylanders. The coalition consists of grassroots, state, and national organizations that have come together to fight voter suppression by ensuring that incarcerated individuals and underrepresented communities are aware of their right to vote and are actively using it, regardless of their circumstances.