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Legislation working its way through Trenton would allow 80,000 new voters to join this person on the rolls in New Jersey.

Expansion of felon voting rights advances in New Jersey

As many as 80,000 new voters would be created in New Jersey under a bill moving through the state Legislature that would restore the franchise to convicts on probation and parole.

Allowing more people with criminal records to participate in elections has become one of the most hotly debated ideas in the "good government" world. Proponents say expanding felons' voting rights boosts turnout and enhances buy-in to the democratic system, especially in minority communities that produce a disproportionate share of the incarcerated. Opponents say the concept of criminals having to repay their debt to society should not be readily relaxed.

New Jersey has been increasingly blue in recent congressional and presidential elections, and the power structure in Trenton is solidly Democratic, so voting rights expansions are not at all likely to realign the state's partisan balance.


The measure passed the state House on Monday on a mostly party-line 46-23 vote. The Senate president, Stephen Sweeney, has endorsed the legislation but not committed to a timetable for a vote. Gov. Philip Murphy has not taken a public position.

"No one population should be disproportionately denied their right to vote," one of the bill's sponsors, Democratic state Rep. Cleopatra Tucker, said in a statement. Republican state Rep. Jay Webber countered that the measure would let the "inmates run the asylum."

Under the bill, about 15,000 felons could register and vote in the presidential election while they were still on parole, as could more than 64,000 people still on felony probation.

If the measure becomes law, New Jersey would join 16 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting convicts to vote as soon as they are released from prison. It's now one of 21 states where voting rights are returned automatically after probation and parole are complete.

The New Jersey proposal is more permissive than what's in the offing in Florida, the largest tossup state, which has been center stage in the felon voting rights debate for the past year.

Almost two-thirds of Floridians a year ago voted to reverse what was usually a lifetime ban on convicts casting ballots, but only for the 1.5 million felons who had completed parole and probation. However, the Republican-led Legislature responded with a new law saying those people must pay fees and fines before voting, prompting state and federal lawsuits alleging the imposition of an unconstitutional poll tax.

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The House on Friday passed legislation to restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The bill would require advance approval of voting changes in states with a history of discrimination. Here President Lyndon Johnson shares one of the pens he used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Passage of historic voting rights law takes a partisan turn

In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.

The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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Big Picture

TV stations fight FCC over political ad disclosure

Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.

With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.

This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.

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1952 Eisenhower Answers America

On TV, political ads are regulated – but online, anything goes

Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.

With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.

I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.

Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.

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