Across the country, approximately 6 million people are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction. Strides are being made to change this, however, as it was recently announced that that New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking to restore voting rights to parolees through Executive Order 181. This is a decision that will open voting to over 35,000 people in New York. Before the governor’s announcement, New Yorkers were unable to vote while serving a term of parole or post-release supervision (PRS). According to the governor’s office, his plan follows 18 other states and Washington, D.C. to gives parolees the ability to vote.
Governor Cuomo states, “I’m unwilling to take no for an answer. I’m going to make it law by executive order. With active intervention, we can bend the arc toward justice.”
In order to achieve this plan, the governor has taken an unusual approach that has been considered out of the ordinary. The governor would review pardons for every person currently on parole in New York, as well as incarcerated individuals who will soon be released to parole. This criminal justice reform circumvents the state’s legislature, which has not yet enacted laws to restore the ability to vote to parolees.
Elements of the Executive Order
- Starting May 1, 2018, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) would be required to present a list of every person on parole and incarcerated individuals who are newly eligible for parole. This list, updated each month, will be reviewed and the individuals will be considered for a conditional pardon that restores their voting rights.
- Individuals on parole with only one felony conviction can apply to renew their right to vote by a Certificate of Good Conduct or a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities.
- This order does not expunge someone’s record or re-institute other rights, like the ability to serve on a jury.
While a significant portion of the Senate has opposed many of Governor Cuomo’s orders for criminal justice reform, civil rights advocates are in favor of his plan to restore voting rights for parolees. In fact, they see it as an overdue step toward helping the formerly incarcerated re-enter their community.
People are also in favor of this order because of the widespread confusion between people on probation and parole. A 2006 survey found that more than one-third of New York’s local boards of elections inaccurately answered that people on probation in the state are not allowed to vote, or they were unsure. An additional third of boards wrongly ask for documentation from individuals with previous convictions looking to register to vote. This confusion amplifies the implications of disenfranchisement by misleading eligible citizens into thinking they are not able to vote.
- https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/18/nyregion/felons-pardon-voting-rights-cuomo.html (last accessed May 10, 2018)
- https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legal-work/2018.04.18_%20New%20York%20EO%20181.pdf (last accessed May 10, 2018)
- https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/voting-rights-restoration-efforts-new-york (last accessed May 10, 2018)
- https://www.nyclu.org/sites/default/files/Disfranchisement7bw.pdf (last accessed May 10, 2018)