By Senator Cory V. McCray
In 2016, we made history in the State of Maryland by overriding Governor Hogan’s veto of House Bill 980 and restoring voting rights to over 40,000 Marylanders who were on parole or probation. At the time, it was contentious. Republicans perceived the world would end if arbitrary barriers coded in the statute were removed—most especially the barrier placed in front of our neighbors, disarming them of the power of the ballot and the ability to weigh in on important issues like public safety, education, and food insecurity, even though they paid taxes. I am proud to have led the effort to remove this barrier, working alongside Maryland State Senator Joan Carter Conway. In Maryland we, not only led but, set the foundation for states like Kentucky and Virginia to push and better position their legislatures to expand the ballot.
Fast forward to 2021, the year the Sentencing Project shared information about how places such as Cook County, Los Angeles County, and, yes, our neighbor next door, the District of Columbia were all allowing voting in jails. Thinking about how to expand the ballot, I had conversations with the current Mayor of Baltimore City Brandon Scott, our State and Local Election Administrator, and Secretary Green within the Department of Public Safety. From there, a realistically attainable goal was developed: the idea to create a pilot plan for Baltimore City’s Central Bookings and Intake Center. One reason it was within reach is because Baltimore City stands as an outlier, having the only pretrial facility run by the State of Maryland. This aspect gave me an opportunity, as a State Senator, to leverage my relationship and engage in critical conversations about enfranchisement, as opposed to disenfranchisement.
I was proud to lead the effort and remain thankful for the support of my colleagues on the successful passage of Senate Bill 525 (2021), which designated the first ballot drop box placed inside a correctional facility in the State of Maryland. It was especially rewarding to witness this effort pass in a bipartisan fashion. Since its passage, I have been working with our local and state leaders on its implementation and am proud of the results yielded by the 2022 Gubernatorial Primary Election cycle. Through collaborative efforts, over 85 Marylanders were able to exercise their fundamental right to vote with first-time access to a ballot box in a Maryland correctional facility. That’s a solid start.As several states throughout the country have worked vigorously to disenfranchise voters by reducing early voting days, reducing voting locations, purging voter rolls, and causing confusion with mail-in ballots, I am proud of the initiative Maryland is taking to ensure that every vote is counted. It is an honor to stand on the shoulders of our leaders—Delegate Justin Ross, Delegate Salima Marriott, and Senator Gwendolyn Britt—who, in 2007, led the historic effort and passed on the torch to expand the ballot. As we progress onwards, I look forward to growing this effort from a pilot to one where the ballot is accessible in local jails across the State of Maryland. It’s important to remember that people who are incarcerated have a fundamental right to vote and, in 2022, Maryland worked to provide over 85 Marylanders in detention that opportunity. 85 could be 850 or 8,500, but only if we continue to remove arbitrary statutory barriers.
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