The New York Democratic Lawyers Council (NYDLC) praises Governor Cuomo's significant announcement today that his office will take immediate action to begin restoring voting rights to the tens of thousands of currently-disenfranchised New York parolees, and further, that his administration is committed to protecting the civil rights of future parolees by doing so on an ongoing basis.
For Immediate Release, Apr 18, 2018
Contact: (866) NYDLC-01; [email protected]
Today the Governor issued Executive Order 181 requiring the NYS Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) to immediately submit to the Governor's office a record of the more than 35,000 New Yorkers currently under parole supervision for "consideration for a conditional pardon that will restore voting rights without undue delay". The order requires the Department to continue doing so on a monthly basis beginning May 1, 2018.
For years and years, New York's Republican-controlled State Senate has obstructed nearly every voter registration and election modernization reform proposed by the Governor, the Assembly, and the Democrats in the State Senate minority, as well as several top-priority criminal justice reforms. Until that changes and rights-restoration policy can be enshrined as the law of the land, the Governor's ongoing review process will help restore the most basic of civil rights to New Yorkers who are today attempting to lead productive lives in our communities.
Across the country, an estimated 6 million individuals are ineligible to vote due to criminal convictions. The Governor's plan aligns New York's policy with that of 16 other states and Washington, D.C., which disenfranchise but allow parolees to vote (14 states automatically restore voting rights when felons are paroled; two states, Iowa and Virginia, also use executive orders to issue pardons). Two states choose not to blanket disenfranchise Americans convicted of felonies. Maintaining disenfranchisement after release stymies reintegration strategies, exacerbates the racially discriminatory impacts of mass incarceration, and further contributes to alienation in the community, leaving these citizens with something less than basic civil rights and discouraging--indeed prohibiting--their participation in what is simultaneously the most tangible and symbolic form of civic engagement.
"I commend the Governor for taking decisive action in the name of fundamental fairness, public safety and electoral reform." said NYS Senator Leroy Comrie. "The Executive Order issued—which will ensure that voting rights will be restored to all individuals who have successfully served their sentence, paid their debt to society and been released into community supervision—closely mirrors legislation I carry, in the form of Senate Bill 960. The rational reinstatement of one’s right to vote is a rehabilitative tool of the highest order. I hope this action is the beginning of expanded voting rights and the democratization of electoral processes in New York State."
NYDLC Executive Director Jarret Berg said: "In a free and democratic society, the decision to strip citizens of fundamental civil rights must always be a deliberate and proportional one. Blanket felon disenfranchisement laws like the one on the books in New York and dozens of other states are racially-tinged vestiges that further stigmatize rather than help reintegrate; that marginalize rather than empower. They all need to be reconsidered. Governor Cuomo's decision to prioritize restoring fundamental voting rights to those who have already served their time and are returning to our communities is not only good policy, it's a great place to start."
NYDLC Legislative Affairs Committee Co-Chairs Tabitha Crosier and John Owens, Jr. released the following statement: "The NYDLC Legislative Affairs Committee commends Governor Cuomo for restoring the fundamental right to vote to parolees, reinstating the rights due to them as citizens. We look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to implement the rest of his voting reform agenda."
* * *