More than 80,000 New Jerseyans who are on parole or probation are having their voting rights restored thanks to a bill signed by Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday.
The measure adds New Jersey to the list of states that have recently re-enfranchised those with criminal records. Murphy, a Democrat, also signed a bill Wednesday that seeks to make it easier for those with criminal records to have them expunged.
“Our Administration is deeply committed to transforming our criminal justice system, and today we are taking a historic step to give residents impacted by that system a second chance,” Murphy said in a statement. “I am proud to sign one of the most progressive expungement laws in the nation, which will allow more New Jerseyans the opportunity to fully engage in our society. I am also proud to enact legislation that will restore voting rights to over 80,000 residents on probation or parole, allowing them to fully participate in our democracy.”
The law is expected to take effect in 90 days.
The move was hailed by progressives, including New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a former mayor of Newark who has made criminal justice reform a top priority of his candidacy for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
“Fixing our broken criminal justice system remains one of the most challenging issues plaguing our nation. Formerly incarcerated individuals continue to face overwhelming obstacles as they rejoin their communities,” Booker said in a statement. “It’s often difficult to obtain jobs and housing and many have lost their right to vote. These measures signed today by Governor Murphy will help restore fairness to the criminal justice system and remove some of the fundamental barriers to re-entry.”
But Doug Steinhardt, the state’s Republican Party chairman, blasted the move, telling NorthJersey.com that it’s “Criminal Christmas in Trenton.”
“As Democrat politicians shower rule breakers with privileges and sympathy, the millions of hardworking New Jersey families who do it by the book are once again left asking, who is looking out for them?” Steinhardt said, according to the outlet.
Several states, including Virginia and Florida, have moved recently to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions. Last week, newly elected Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, restored voting rights for more than 140,000 former felons.
Myrna Pérez, the director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program, said such moves are steps toward “welcoming people back who have been traditionally shut out” and that former criminal justice policies “disproportionately decimated communities of color.”
“Americans of all types have made mistakes in their past and Americans of all types have opportunities for growth,” Pérez told CNN. “The right to vote is a way that we preserve all of our other rights and responsibilities. I would argue that we are all better off and we’re all stronger when our democracy is more robust and participatory.”
CNN’s Caroline Kelly and Peniel Joseph contributed to this story.