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Senate approves expanding voting rights for ex-felons

Bill sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore city Democrat, would let ex-felons register to vote once out of prison and while still on parole or probation.
Bill sponsored by Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore city Democrat, would let ex-felons register to vote once out of prison and while still on parole or probation. (Kenneth K. Lam)

Ex-felons could regain their voting rights while on parole or probation under a bill passed Monday night by the Maryland Senate.

The vote for SB340 was 29 to 18, with senators split over the wisdom of letting ex-felons register before they've fully completed all the terms of their sentences, as the law now requires.

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Sen. Michael J. Hough, a Frederick County Republican, argued that they ought to finish any parole or probation first and pay any required restitution. To do otherwise, he contended, would be "sending a bad message."

And Sen. Bryan W. Simonaire, an Anne Arundel County Republican, argued that as the bill now stands, ex-felons who violate their parole or probation could wind up voting while back in prison.

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"We are making a flawed system more flawed," Simonaire warned.

But Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Baltimore city Democrat and the bill's sponsor, countered that 15 to 20 other states already let ex-felons vote while on parole and probation, and that two states even let convicts vote while still serving time.

The bill now goes to the House.

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