The League of Women Voters believes that voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed. This is why we have been working with other organizations and our legislative champions to pass HB 222 – The Value My Vote Act.

In 2016, voting rights were restored to Maryland citizens who had been convicted of a felony but are no longer incarcerated. However, no process was put in place to ensure that these citizens could exercise those rights, and many are unaware that they are now allowed to participate in democracy. In addition, Marylanders who are incarcerated while awaiting trial, or who were convicted of a misdemeanor, have the right to vote but don’t have access to voter registration forms or mail-in ballot applications.

HB 222 addresses both these impediments to voting by requiring statewide collaboration between state and local correctional facilities to provide persons leaving incarceration with a voter registration application and documentation that their voting rights have been restored. It also sets up a program in every facility for informing qualified voters of upcoming elections and providing them with the means to participate in those elections.

Such a program has been successfully taking place in Montgomery County for more than a decade.

Volunteers from the League of Women Voters have maintained a partnership with staff at the Pre-Release Center, the Montgomery County Detention Center and the Montgomery County Correctional Center.

Suzy Malagari, warden at the Detention Services Division, Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, fully supports access and empowerment of the facility inmate populations.

“We are incredibly fortunate to have the partnership with the League of Women Voters who have helped us open the opportunity for our population to learn about their voting rights and actively participate in elections within the communities they are preparing to return to. This is a valuable step in their reentry process,” Malagari said.

League members who have participated in this program support expansion of this opportunity to the some 9,000 citizens statewide who are awaiting trial or have been convicted of a misdemeanor and are eligible to vote.

The Value My Vote Act has bipartisan support and received a favorable report from the House Ways and Means and Judiciary Committees. The House of Delegates has passed the bill and sent it to the Senate for its approval as well

We call on the Senate to act to empower voters and defend democracy by passing this important legislation.

– LOIS HYBL AND RICHARD WILLSON

The writers are co-presidents of the League of Women Voters of Maryland.