MD Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed an important piece of legislation that would have allowed for 40,000 of Maryland’s ex-felons to vote. Protestors talk to TRNN’s Eddie Conway about their efforts to overturn the decision.
EDDIE CONWAY, PRODUCER, TRNN: I’m Eddie Conway with another segment of Rattling the Bars. Fifty years ago today, Lyndon Johnson signed the historic Voting Rights act, a law which intended to ensure everyone the right to vote. PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON: And I pledge you that we will not delay, or we will not hesitate, or we will not turn aside until Americans of every race and color and origin in this country have the same right as all others to share in the process of democracy. CONWAY: Today, ex-felons are marking that anniversary by demanding that concept apply to them, too. SPEAKER: You can pay taxes again, but you can’t vote. There is one man keeping over 40,000 people from voting in the state of Maryland. CONWAY: In May Republican Governor Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would have restored voting rights to some of Maryland’s 40,000 ex-felons automatically after they were released. SPEAKER: So we let this bill in. And this bill did not only go in by myself, but we had 51 co-sponsors in the House. Fifty-one. We had bipartisanship coming through ways and means and on the House floor. But we still had, as Christopher [Ervin] said, one person standing in our way from giving over 40,000 people, 40,000 of our neighbors, our family, our friends, that cannot have the opportunity to vote. CONWAY: Currently Maryland denies the right to vote to ex-offenders until their probation is completed. I’m one of those 40,000. I was released from prison last year after serving 44 years as a political prisoner. SPEAKER: You know, we’ve been convicted and we still are being punished after being set free. And that’s the bottom line. CONWAY: And does it also stop the black community from having voting power because of those–. SPEAKER: Absolutely. Absolutely. CONWAY: Out of that 40,000, almost maybe 30,000 is people of color? SPEAKER: Absolutely. CONWAY: Now protesters are demanding the General Assembly override the governor’s veto. A demand that has taken on an even greater urgency after the killing of Freddie Gray in police custody which has spurred calls for change. Also at the rally was East Baltimore Delegate Cory McCray, a champion and lead House sponsor of the bill Hogan vetoed. He turned his life around after serving time behind bars in the juvenile system. CORY MCCRAY, EAST BALTIMORE DELEGATE: What happens is in any organizing campaign or anything bottom-up, you have to build momentum. I think that this is, what it’s going to do, it’s going to amplify the voices of the people that don’t have their voices. This is a conversation right now between the haves, the have-nots. You have an industry or administration that want to keep things the way they are. Then you have people that live in my district, District 45, where there’s a high population of ex-offenders that want to see change. They want to have a voice, they want to be able to have that conversation in reference to job employment. In reference to the Second Chance Act. In reference to housing. In reference to transportation, the rail line coming. So many things that affect not only this generation but so many generations to come. CONWAY: African-Americans are disproportionately affected by felony disenfranchisement, despite making up less than a third of Maryland’s population, two-thirds of the number of people who cannot vote due to felony convictions are black. SPEAKER: I want my vote to count. I want females’ votes to count as well as the males. This should have been passed and not vetoed. So therefore we’re going to keep shutting it down, and shutting it down, and shutting it down, until we pass this bill. CONWAY: They also argue that exercising the right to vote is fundamental to democracy, and should be restored to those that have already paid their debt to society. From Baltimore, I’m Eddie Conway.
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