NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs bill restoring voter rights to felons

"We are one step closer to dismantling the vestiges of segregation-era felony disenfranchisement in NY," says New York Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill that grants those released from prison the right to vote immediately upon discharge, resulting in the restoration of voter rights for an estimated 35,000 people, according to Revolt.

“Over the past several years, New York has been a national leader in election and criminal justice reforms, and felony disenfranchisement is a vestige of Jim Crow era voting restrictions,” Cuomo said in a statement. The bill was signed into law on Tuesday.

“I strongly believe that restoring the right to vote to people who have paid their debt to society strengthens our democracy, promotes successful reentry into the community, and makes New York a safer and fairer place to live.”

New York Governor Cuomo Holds Covid Briefing
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (Photo by Shannon Stapleton-Pool/Getty Images)

Under a former executive order issued by the governor in 2018, parolees were required to wait a period of four-to-six weeks to receive a pardon which made them eligible to register to vote on their own. Since then, Cuomo has reportedly granted 67,000 conditional pardons, restoring voting rights for the paroled. Revolt also noted nearly 70% of parolees ineligible to vote were Black, according to the governor’s office.

“Parole disenfranchisement was designed to prevent Black men from voting. We see the legacy of these laws in the largely Black and Latinx parolee population today,” New York Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, said in a tweet after the bill passed. “We are one step closer to dismantling the vestiges of segregation-era felony disenfranchisement in NY.”

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“Because of the racial disparities plaguing New York State’s criminal justice system, the prohibition on voting for people on parole has had an enormous impact on Black and Latino New Yorkers, who make up nearly three-quarters of the people on parole in New York State,” Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, said in a statement, reported by NBC News.

The new law, effective immediately, reportedly eliminates the necessity of pardons and requires Department of Corrections’ officials to provide a voter registration form, a declination form, and information on the importance of voting to former prisoners as they are released from facilities.

Cuomo’s signing of S 830B into law also reportedly mandates that courts inform defendants that accepting guilty pleas suspends their right to vote. Bill sponsor O’Donnell said that he is proud “that this legislation removes one more barrier to equal representation in our state.”

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“Studies show that when people on parole know that they deserve to participate in government, they feel more connected to the community and are more likely to reintegrate into society successfully,” O’Donnell said. “Together, we have helped New York realize a principle that our segregation-era laws have sought to deny: every citizen has equal worth and deserves the right to vote.”

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