NJ Assembly advances bill to restore voting rights for people on probation, parole

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Tens of thousands of people who have been convicted and are currently on probation or parole in New Jersey may be able to vote in next year's presidential election. 

People convicted of a crime are currently barred from voting in New Jersey. But under the new measure, voting rights would be restored to roughly 80,000 people. 

The Democrat-led New Jersey Assembly passed the bill Monday, but not everyone is on board. Forty-six New Jersey lawmakers voted for the bill, but 23 were against it.

“This bill literally allows the inmates to run the asylum,” argued Republican Assemblyman Jay Webber. “It makes no sense to give people who are under the control of the state, who have lost the right to vote, the right to vote on the system that is controlling their lives.”

But many Democrats disagreed. 

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter, who is one of the bill's primary sponsors, said the bill “makes perfect sense.”

“The right to vote is not a privilege but a constitutional right for those who are citizens of this great state of New Jersey,” she said.

Assemblyman Jamel Holley added that nobody is perfect.

“This bill corrects the wrongs of the past,” he said, “but individuals, like many of us who possess this seat around this chamber, who say, 'I just need a second chance, I need a chance, I need someone to hear me out, that the mistakes I made in the past don't allow that to predict who I am moving forward.’ ”

Holley said the bill is about humans. “This vote is about how do we give somebody else the benefit of being a real productive human being.”

Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker also believes in the bill “whole-heartedly.”

"When we do something wrong and we go serve our time and come back on parole or probation, we're working, we're paying taxes,” she said. “And as a taxpayer, we have the right to vote, and they should have the same right.”

All of the primary sponsors of the bill are Democrats, but Holley said this not a democratic agenda. 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Jersey would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia that bar only those convicts who are incarcerated from voting.

The bill now moves to the state Senate. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.