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Giving inmates back the vote moves ahead

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NewsCrime & Public Safety

Giving inmates back the vote moves ahead

A proposal to amend the constitution to restore the right to vote for incarcerated felons was favorably reported by a legislative committee bringing it closer to the 2026 statewide ballot.

The bill, pushed by state Sens. Liz Miranda and Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven, would remove the constitutional amendment that was added in 2000 when voters approved a statewide ballot question making it illegal to vote from prison while serving a felony sentence.

Similar bills have been filed in the past, but this week’s Election Laws Committee vote marks the first time the proposal was favorably reported out of a committee, enabling it to move on in the legislative process.

Miranda, Uyterhoeven and other supporters say this is a racial justice issue, as people of color represent about 18% of the population in Massachusetts, but 58% of people in the carceral system. Uyterhoeven said 1.5% of African Americans in Massachusetts are serving time for felonies and therefore cannot vote under the Constitution.

Eleven members of the committee voted to report the bill favorably, and two reserved their rights. The only three Republican members of the committee — Sen. Ryan Fattman, Rep. Brad Jones and Rep. Paul Frost– all voted against recommending the bill.

The measure would need a favorable vote during a Constitutional Convention this session and next session in order to reach the ballot in November 2026. This session’s convention is scheduled to get underway next month.

A favorable vote would require 101 lawmakers — a majority of the 200 legislative seats — to support the measure.

Miranda said that she believes “it will take some work” to get 101-plus lawmakers to vote for the measure, but that the committee’s report is a “vote of confidence” and “a good first step.”

Massachusetts is not alone in reconsidering if inmates should be allowed to vote while serving time for felonies this year. Democratic lawmakers in California and New York have also filed bills and amendments to end felony disenfranchisement.

The idea is especially popular among younger voters. A recent UMass poll showed 71% of voters 18 to 29 in Massachusetts supported the right to vote for incarcerated people, though the poll did not delineate between felons and those in jails or prison without a convicted felony.

Paul Craney, spokesperson for the conservative-leaning nonprofit Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said he is confident that voters will reject the measure if it makes it to the ballot again.

“They’re not respecting the will of the voters,” Craney said, referring to the 2000 election where 60% of voters supported removing the right. “This wasn’t a nail-biter election, and people’s opinions about these things don’t really change.”

State House News Service

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