Ron Pierce always valued the right to vote and remembers Election Day being meaningful in his house growing up. Thanks to a new law that took effect in New Jersey, the former inmate is casting his first ballot in nearly 35 years.
Pierce is one of 83,000 people on probation and parole in the Garden State who can now register to vote thanks to legislation that went into effect on March 17 allowing them to do so. In January, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill restoring the right to vote for residents on probation or parole.
“I have been counting the days down to this day, when I could use the pen the governor used to sign the legislation into law to fill out and sign my registration form, reinstating my right to vote, letting me have a meaningful say in the direction of my community, state and nation,” said Pierce. “This is a monumental day.”
An event was held commemorating the day at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark, which was streamed on Facebook Live. Pierce was one of two people who registered to vote at the event. The other was Antonne Henshaw, an activist and student who got caught up in the criminal justice system at a young age and never got the right to vote until now.
“Here it is in 2020—recently released, and I just signed my voter registration form to be able to have a say in this government and not just pay taxes and be silent. That’s civil death,” he said. “Now I can vote.”
New Jersey has denied the vote to people with criminal convictions since 1844. An advocacy campaign started by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice called “1844 No More” seeked to change things.
NJISJ President & CEO Ryan Haygood said the victory was a collective effort.
“You contacted your elected officials, you wrote postcards, you marched, you rallied, you testified, you advocated and you stood with us along [with] some courageous legislators who introduced and ultimately passed legislation that would help New Jersey truly become 1844 no more,” Haygood told livestream viewers. “Our collective goal in New Jersey is to build the most inclusive democracy in America.”
New Jersey joins 16 other states, including Indiana, Montana, and Utah, currently restoring voting rights to individuals on probation or parole.