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Bill restoring felons' vote OK'd

March 29, 2002|BY LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

A measure that would restore the voting rights of repeat felons after they serve their time was tentatively approved Thursday by the Maryland Senate after Republicans tried unsuccessfully to weaken the bill.

Under current law, someone who is convicted once of a felony can register to vote after serving their sentence.

But someone who is convicted two times is barred from ever voting, making Maryland one of only 13 states to limit felons' voting rights.

After drawing heated debate in the Senate last week, a proposal to lift all voting restrictions on repeat felons was revised to apply to nonviolent felons only. Ex-cons would also have to wait three years after they served their sentences before they could vote.

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Republicans tried unsuccessfully to go the other direction, offering amendments that would place even more restrictions on felons voting than there are today.

Under one proposal, anyone convicted of a violent crime would lose the right to vote.

"We have a contract with society and people who have committed especially violent crimes have broken that contract," said Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

There were separate proposals that would have taken away the right to vote for first-time murderers, rapists, child sex offenders and treasonists.

"In my district, if you commit murder, people think you should not get the right to vote back," said Sen. Andrew P. Harris, R-Baltimore.

One by one, the proposed amendments failed. Mooney and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, supported each of them.

The House of Delegates has already passed its version of the felon voting bill by a vote of 82-57, with all six Washington County delegates opposed.

It's expected the House will agree with the Senate's version of the bill.

Black legislators have pressed the issue for the past few years.

They were backed by a presidential commission, led by former Presidents Ford and Carter, which encouraged states to grant voting rights to those who have paid their debt to society.

It was an emotional issue for black lawmakers, who believe that the current law disenfranchises black voters who have overcome previous brushes with the law to become upstanding and taxpaying members of society.

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