The Maryland Board of Elections should secure collection boxes to all jails and prisons in the state’s 24 jurisdictions to ensure completed voter forms and ballots are safely secured.
The board should request local election boards add a non-partisan voter hotline provided by Out For Justice, an advocacy organization based in Baltimore led by formerly incarcerated individuals.
Voting instructions, mail-in ballot applications and other information should be sent to local jails and state prisons by Friday, Sept. 18.
These recommendations come from at least eight advocacy groups to make sure those incarcerated participate in the Nov. 3 general election. A formal announcement on an initiative called “Expand the Ballot, Expand the Vote” got discussed Monday, Sept. 14 during a virtual press conference.
“We pushed to make sure the state Board of Elections understood that the right for people in prisons and jails was a priority for us,” said Nicole Hanson-Mundell, executive director of Out for Justice who’s helping to lead the statewide voting plan. “We all know that COVID changed our lives. Because of COVID, we were not able to fill in those gaps.”
Hanson-Mundell said an estimated 7,000 eligible people behind bars could be affected.
There’s been a nationwide effort to ensure ex-felons, referred to as returning citizens, to regain their voting rights. In some states such as Maryland, make sure those incarcerated who are eligible to vote have access to the ballot.
“This is a bipartisan effort. This is an effort that affects every citizen of the United States,” said Monica Cooper, executive director of Maryland Justice Project and former incarcerated citizen. “It doesn’t matter your party affiliation. As a citizen of this country, you’re preserved the right the vote and nobody should ever take that away from you.”
Those who aren’t eligible to vote in Maryland fall in two categories: people with a current felony conviction and anyone convicted of buying or selling votes.
Incarcerated individuals with misdemeanor offenses and those held on pretrial status are eligible to vote.
A first-time joint effort led by Out for Justice continues to compile lists of eligible voters from most county jails and send them to the state Board of Elections. The state will count each person and mail off a cover explaining voter eligibility, a mail-in ballot application and a self-addressed stamped envelope.
As of Monday, officials from six counties responded.
Prince George’s County hasn’t been one of them.
The county’s state’s attorney office continues to work on an initiative known as “Operation Protect the Vote for All” to assess and determine eligible voters with the county Department of Corrections and state Board of Elections.
Advocates on the press call didn’t know about the state’s attorney plan until asked by a reporter.
“We are in a movement, not a moment,” said Qiana Johnson, executive director of Life After Release in Prince George’s that assists returning citizens. “We are not here for the performative stunts of elected officials. For this to be sustainable, we need to have folks who are directly impacted leading this actual movement. We have not heard about this operation and we welcome the state’s attorney office to reach out to us.”