ANNAPOLIS – The House is expected to accept a watered-down Senate version of a bill that allows some ex-felons with multiple convictions to vote in Maryland elections.
House backers of the felon-voting bill said they were disappointed, but that the state is better off with the limited Senate version than with no version.
At least some multiple ex-felons will be allowed to vote, “which is better than zero,” said Delegate Kerry A. Hill, D-Prince George’s, and sponsor of the House bill.
Hill said he expected the House to pass the Senate version of the bill, possibly as soon as today, and have the measure in the governor’s hands within a week. The legislature must conclude all its business for the year before the legislative session ends Monday night.
Under current Maryland law, felons lose their right to vote once they are convicted. First-time felons automatically have their voting rights restored at the end of their court-ordered sentences but second-time felons, regardless of the crime or severity of the sentence, must obtain a gubernatorial pardon if they want to return to the polls.
The House version of the bill would have allowed felons with two or more convictions to vote three years after they had completed their sentences. A sentence would include probation, parole, community service, restitution or fines.
But the Senate amended the bill so that felons convicted more than once of violent crimes, such as murder, rape and kidnapping, would not have their voting rights restored. They would still be able to regain their franchise if they were pardoned by the governor.
Although some supporters are disappointed with the felony restrictions and the waiting period, both House and Senate sponsors said they are pleased with the bill’s success this year.
“For two years it didn’t even make it out of committee,” Hill said. “It’s been a hard bill,” he said, “four years in the making.”
And, Hill said, it was still a close vote in the Senate, 26-20.
The Senate sponsor agreed with Hill that something is better than nothing. The bill still has some power, said Sen. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore.
“It’s a smaller pool of people,” she said, “but it helps those in a significant way.”