My name is Ioana Stoica and I have been a Maryland resident for most of the time since immigrating to the United States at the age of 11. I have resided in District 21 for the past 4 years. I am writing as a concerned citizen, as a founding member of the Bend the Arc Moral Minyan, and also as a member of Oseh Shalom Synagogue in Laurel, MD. This testimony is in support of SB372 that would require the state of Maryland to adopt policies that would enfranchise all voters in our state, including eligible incarcerated voters, as well as former incarcerated people who have served their sentence.
Our current system of disenfranchising certain members of our society from voting has deep roots in our racist history. Since our nation’s founding, Black Codes had been enacted to constrain the freedom of black individuals (these existed before the Civil War but especially gained popularity in the post-war period). Crimes such as “disrespecting employers” and vagrancy were enshrined into law specifically to control the behavior of black people, and served essentially to criminalize them. Michelle Alexander eloquently wrote, in her influential book The New Jim Crow, that “we use our criminal justice system to label people of color ‘criminals’ […] Today is it perfectly legal to discriminate against ‘criminals’ in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans.” Considering that, due to racist policies such as the “War on Drugs,” black men are disproportionately represented in the incarcerated population, the current system continues to promulgate structural racism. And, of course, statistics do not support the conclusion that black people disproportionately use or sell drugs – they are just more likely to be arrested, charged, and incarcerated (see the 2009 study by the Human Rights Watch on this topic as one example).
One of the most important guiding principles of my faith is that of pursuing justice. It would be a small but important beginning towards righting these grave historical injustices to empower all those eligible to vote in our state, including formerly incarcerated and eligible incarcerated individuals, to vote. Voting is fundamental to democracy, and, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., eloquently stated, it “is the foundation stone for political action. If people don’t vote, or if our votes don’t count, we lose our democracy.”
Many people who are currently incarcerated are not aware that they are allowed to vote while in prison, and those who are released do not usually have the information they need to register to vote. This bill would ensure that these individuals would receive that information, thus empowering them to be active participants in our democracy. I respectfully urge a favorable report on this bill.