MD Senate Restores Ex-Felon’s Right to Vote
TRNN’s Eddie Conway covers the historic push to override Governor Larry Hogan’s veto of a law that will restore the right to vote upon release
EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN: I’m Eddie Conway. Welcome to the Real News. This is a special segment of Rattling the Bars. We are down here in Annapolis today to see if the Senate will override the governor’s veto of the bill that will allow ex-offenders to vote.
SPEAKER: Why I’m here is because I represent a large portion of folks that’s on parole or probation, and they’re trying to get that seat at the table, whether that’s transportation, whether it’s workforce, whether it’s professional licenses, whether it’s–so [many] housing, so many different issues.
CONWAY: One of the things that people are always curious about is that they say, well, okay, ex-felons shouldn’t have the right to vote. They don’t, you know, they don’t contribute to the community, et cetera, et cetera. Well, I, myself, I’m an ex-felon. And I’ve been here working with the Real News for a couple of years. And [inaud.] you are, too.
SPEAKER: So I’ve interacted with the penal system a lot as my juvenile years. So I’ve been in the adult system as a juvenile, part of it. But I’ve never been convicted of a felony. But one of the things that I always say is that I know a lot of folks, the [Perry Hopkins], the Chris Wilsons, so many people who do contribute to how a community, whether that’s Station or whether it’s Oliver or whether it’s McElderry Park, so many communities doing so much great work. And at the same time while they’re paying taxes, while they’re helping in the community, they don’t have a say in reference to who their elected representative would be.
SPEAKER: Most of these folks have spent years in jail. Hercules, how long were you in jail?
SPEAKER: Forty-two years.
SPEAKER: Forty-two years. Come on. A man gets out, he should be able to vote right away. He knows what he wants to do. I mean, he knows, you know, after thinking about it, maybe not the first two or three years, but certainly the last, you know, he has ideas of what he wants to do, how he wants to do it. And I mean, it’s just ridiculous that our–he’s probably put in there for the wrong reason anyway. So once somebody gets out and they’ve done all their time, they’ve paid their debt to society, why shouldn’t they have the right to vote?
CONWAY: What’s your name, how old are you, and why are you here?
SPEAKER: Seymor Hall. I’m here to support–. [Inaud.] I was making.
CONWAY: How many years you spend in prison?
SPEAKER: Thirty-five. I was let out when I was 82. I’m 84 now.
CONWAY: Are you going to vote after, if this passes the Senate?
SPEAKER: Yes. Yes. I’m so glad that it’s happened. That’s one reason I’m here, to do all that can be done by–.
SPEAKER: that opportunity to participate in the citizenship. Voting. I mean, if we’re here, we’re free, we’ve paid our debt to society, now let us live this human being, let us live as citizens and contribute.
CONWAY: What’s the status of the bill now?
SPEAKER: It is done. The Senate has now over–also voted to override the same bill that originally came over from the House. And so it is officially overridden, and in 30 days, on March 10, the bill becomes law. If you’re out, you can register to vote, period.
CONWAY: Okay. So there’s–no special mechanisms need to be in place?
CONWAY: In other words, an ex-offender can just go to their community registration place and sign up.
SPEAKER: Right. Yep. But you know, what’s interesting too is that whatever happens, it’s not going to happen in time to impact this primary, because the deadline for filing for the primary election for Baltimore right now is over.
SPEAKER: To register.
CONWAY: Oh, okay. Okay. So only the general–.
SPEAKER: So that’s, that’s really interesting.
CONWAY: Yeah. It’s interesting, and it’s also a lost, missed opportunity.
SPEAKER: Huge missed–.
CONWAY: Yeah, so–.
SPEAKER: Unless, unless–unless the, somehow there becomes some momentum for people to register as independents and just focus on the general election, anyway. But you know, it’s interesting, but it’s also an opportunity, because I think that the belief was, you know, that the majority of people are going to register as Democrats to affect the primary. Which, that is now a lost opportunity. And so we’ll see. You know, I think it’s up to some leadership to step in and try to, you know, get people to be kind of unified in the mission.
SPEAKER: We also, while we’ve restored this right, we also want to restore the right for food stamps, we want to eliminate that ban, we want to eliminate the ban on public housing, we want to eliminate the ban on any of these careers. Many careers, as many of you know, require licensing. And we want to make sure that those licenses are provided, whether it is barbers, whether it is beauticians, whether it is cosmetology, whatever. Once you paid your debt to society, you deserve the rights of a citizen. The full rights of a citizen. And so that’s what we’re going to be working for, which–working with during this session. And more important we’re proud of what happened today, and we look forward to your participation in the voting process.
CONWAY: This is Eddie Conway for the Real News. Thank you for joining us in a special session of Rattling the Bars, and thank you for joining the Real News.
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