Backlash After Tens of Thousands of Criminals Now Allowed to Vote in Maryland

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at Baltimore City Detention Center on July 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Maryland Senate President Mike Miller (D) is accusing Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and his “staff of right-wing people haters” of orchestrating a hate mail and phone call campaign aimed at him and 28 other Democrats who voted to override Hogan’s veto of legislation that allows felons on parole to vote.

The Baltimore Sun reported the new law, which goes into effect March 10, will unleash a herd of new voters. More than 40,000 former prison inmates will be eligible to register to vote in Baltimore’s mayoral, city council and presidential primary elections this spring.

This is happening in a state where Democrats already outnumber Republicans 2-1.

Under current Maryland law, felons have to complete their probation and parole before being allowed to register to vote, a system that Democrats have called demoralizing and confusing for those released from prison, along with being unnecessary.

The American Probation and Parole Association testified during a General Assembly debate that “civic participation is integral to successful rehabilitation” of prison inmates.

The Baltimore City Council voiced its collective support for General Assembly Democrats by approving a city council resolution that read: “Denying so many of our neighbors the right to vote makes it much more difficult to engage them in the process.”

“The General Assembly was right to open the door to meaningful participation in our society to all non-incarcerated ex-offenders, and it should complete the process by overriding the Governor’s veto at the earliest opportunity in the 2016 legislative session,” the city council resolution concluded.

Civil-rights advocates contended forcing felons to wait to vote hurt minorities disproportionally because far more black people account for the state’s prison population.

Republicans backing Hogan’s veto argued felons should earn their way back into society before being allowed to vote.

Maryland Democrats may feel they have settled the issue by overriding Hogan’s veto. But the debate, whether spontaneous or not, is far from over.

Sen. Miller accused Change Maryland, a political organization that backs Gov. Hogan, of orchestrating the “most vicious hate mail you can imagine” against 29 Democrats who voted to override Hogan’s veto.

Change Maryland did post a list on its Facebook page of the General Assembly Democrats who voted to override.

Miller pointed to a phone call in which an unidentified man told a staff member of Sen. John Astle’s office that he hoped the Democrat’s wife and daughter would be raped and murdered.

“He didn’t even know who I am,” Astle told WBAL Radio. “I have never experienced this kind of vitriol over an issue.”

Astle and his wife don’t have a daughter, but Miller said that is beside the point.

“That was a very unhealthy thing for him to do. It was a very ungentlemanly like thing to do. It was morally objectionable on my part, as far as I am concerned. To single out 29 senators and have hate mail come to them in their districts,” Miller said on the Senate floor. “You know, we don’t need that. This is not Washington, D.C. We move forward.”

Doug Mayer, Gov. Hogan’s spokesman, said Democrats were not being subjected to a hate mail campaign because of their vote to override. He argued Maryland voters are only letting their voices be heard.

“If they don’t want their constituents to be upset with them, then they shouldn’t vote in favor of items that their constituents absolutely despise,” Mayer said.

Gov. Hogan said Senate leadership “twisted arms and had to go to great lengths” to override his vote. Hogan pointed out the vote was delayed four times before Democrats were able to muster the necessary support.

“Sadly, it appears that a number of senators are mad that their constituents now know what they have been up to in Annapolis,” Mayer said.

Miller’s spokesman, Jake Weissmann, admitted none of the phone calls or emails received by Democrats have risen to the level where the police had to be called.

But Miller, during his speech on the Senate floor, appealed to Hogan and Change Maryland to stop the attacks and “avoid the pinpricks that precede the cannon shots.”

But it seems this debate, at least as far as Hogan is concerned, has already gone far beyond the pinprick stage.

Gov. Hogan said it was a “radical minority” of Democrats who orchestrated the veto override.

He predicted they would come to regret their decision and would be defeated in the next election because an “overwhelming supermajority of people in both parties” would object to the idea of felons voting while on parole or probation.

“They have no chance of being reelected after that vote,” Hogan said. “They can’t keep ignoring the will of the people.”