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Civil Rights Groups Want NJ To Approve Voting RIghts For People With Criminal Convictions

More than 94,000 New Jersey residents with criminal convictions are not allowed to vote.  Civil rights groups are pushing for that to change.

Blacks make up about 15 percent of New Jersey's population but represent about half of those who cannot vote because of a criminal conviction.

Senator Ron Rice says that disproportionately reduces the political power of black communities because of systemic racism in the criminal justice system. 

"I believe that every New Jerseyan and every public official concerned with the integrity and legitimacy of our democracy should be ashamed that this practice was born in 1844 at a time when slavery was legal and practiced in our state and has continued for 170 years." 

Rice and Senator Sandra Cunningham plan to introduce legislation to give back voting rights to people on parole, probation, or in prison.  

North Jersey resident Ronald Pierce is on parole after his criminal conviction and is not allowed to vote. He says voting can be an effective part of rehabilitation for people who are incarcerated.

"When a person engages in meaningful dialogue about civic concerns, it opens them up to seeing beyond their personal needs and shifts their focus to issues that affect the community.”

The Institute for Social Justice says because of racial disparities in convictions, about 5 percent of New Jersey's Black voting age population cannot participate in the political process. That's more than twice the rate in neighboring New York and Pennsylvania.

Amol Sinha, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, believes they should get voting rights.

“If New Jersey is serious about resisting federal efforts to suppress the vote, we have to ensure that more people can vote, not fewer. We need to demonstrate moral leadership. We need to reject an unjust scheme that has amounted largely to just one thing ---an official policy of racially based disempowerment.”