A day before Black History Month began, formerly incarcerated people and their allies gathered in a room with legislators and lawmakers from New Jersey. They were there to demand their right to vote, which was stolen from them 175 years ago, the same year voting became exclusively a white man's activity.
The group of changemakers is known as #1844NoMore, and their goal is to restore voting rights to the nearly 95,000 people who are either in prison, on parole or on probation throughout the state of New Jersey. At present, almost half of the disenfranchised people in the state are Black, even though Black people make up only 15% of the state's population. This is a clear indicator of the racist history of felony disenfranchisement in America.
But #1844NoMore is ready to right the wrong of this history. During the Jan. 31 meeting, attendees learned more about the three voting rights bills that will make the group's goal a reality: S-2100, S-771, and S-1603. While S-771 is a step in the right direction, it does not go far enough in that it would continue to deny voting rights people in prison. S-1603 is a bill that aims to provide voter registration assistance to people completing parole, probation, and criminal sentences, but does not explicitly re-enfranchise them. Thus, S-2100 is the bill that--in conjunction with the other two--will seal the deal on total restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people.
The people spearheading these efforts are standing on the shoulders of many counterparts across the country. Last year, formerly incarcerated leaders helped regain voting rights for 1.4 million Floridians. We at VOTE helped re-enfranchise 43,000 Louisianans, whose voting rights will be restored in less than three weeks. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order restoring the right to vote to 35,000 people on parole.
The important work of restoring voting rights to people who have served their time in our nation's jails and prisons is happening everywhere, and the U.S. South has played a critical role in paving the way. We stand by our siblings near and far, knowing that by doing so we are honoring the legacies of the civil rights giants who came before us.
If you or someone you know are a member of a social justice organization whose work overlaps with #1844NoMore, sign the letter here and/or share the fact card here.