Politics Mondays: Ex-Offenders Register To Vote by Ken Morgan

For 52,000 Maryland residents who are ex-offenders with felony records, July 2, 2007, represented a special day. A new law lobbied for by the Maryland “got democracy?” Coalition was the reason. The law took effect Sunday, July 1, 2007. Baltimore has one of the largest concentrations of ex-offenders in Maryland. Maryland now joins thirty eight other states that have similar ex-offender voting rights laws.

Kimberly Haven of the “got democracy?” Coalition and executive director of Justice Maryland said, “This was a day long in coming and was made possible by the efforts of an incredible coalition and individual support. We have created a new constituency in our state and brought the promise of political empowerment to so many of our fellow citizens.”

Kimberly Haven herself an ex-offender, now for the first time is able to vote. She said at the press conference held outside the Baltimore City Election Board office, “Today is my independence day.” She and six other ex-offenders registered this day on July 2.

Marlo Hargrove an ex-offender said at the press conference, “It means a lot to me to voice my opinion on matters in society today as a registered voter. Now we have to educate our ex-felons. We need to know our rights. We want to continue to make history and not to fade and be gone with the wind. What we have done in the past should not dictate our future.”

David Waller another ex-offender who registered to vote said, “I'd like to set a good example for my children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews to take an active role in voting.” Beyond voting said Waller, “We need ex-offenders to get involved in their communities. The less involved, the less stock they will have in it.”

Walter Lomax, recently released in December 2006 after serving 39 years for a crime he did not commit said, “Organizing to register voters is still needed.” He went on to say, “We must do more than vote.”

Lomax gave an example of the community organizing such as the Zero murder Tolerance Rate Movement. He said, “The needs of ex-offenders and those incarcerated need to be addressed holistically. You need to put something in place to find ex-offenders suitable housing, decent jobs and healthcare.” Lomax is an advocate for those serving life sentences who are termed “lifers.”

If you want to be involved in the “got democracy?” coalition and to find out about other groups advocating for ex-offenders and those still incarcerated, start with Justice Maryland. Call 410 244-6334.

As one anonymous advocate said, “Ex-offenders and those behind prison walls are part of our community too.”

Ken Morgan writes for The Baltimore Times

Monday, July 30, 2007