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People with convictions cast ballots in New Jersey primary after regaining the right to vote

A new law restored voting rights to 83,000 people but advocates struggled to inform tens of thousands of people amid this pandemic

A man walks past a vote-by-mail dropbox for the New Jersey primary election outside the Camden administration building.

Photograph: Matt Slocum/AP

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Jonah Walters/ The  Guardian 

Tue 7 Jul 2020 08.00 ED

Last year, about 102,000 New Jersey residents were barred from voting due to felony convictions, according to a report from the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. And the problem was accelerating: about 2,500 residents saw their names purged from the state’s voting rolls due to felony convictions each year between 2016 and the end of 2018.

Advocates reversed that trend in late 2019, successfully organizing for the passage of A5823, a bill that restored ballot access for all people on parole or probation in New Jersey, processes that can last years after people leave prison. When the new law took effect on 17 March, about 83,000 people recovered their voting rights, a figure roughly equivalent to the population of Trenton, New Jersey’s capital city.

But after losing months of potential canvassing and registration drives because of the coronavirus pandemic, advocates struggled to inform those tens of thousands of people about their restored voting rights and encourage them to register in advance of today’s primary election. (New Jersey enforces a voter registration deadline of 21 days in advance of each election.)

Some parole and probation officers have notified people under their supervision of their restored voting rights, said Henal Patel, director of the Democracy and Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. But it’s unclear to what extent the agencies responsible for administering parole and probation have participated in the notification effort.

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