NEW YORK – It’s official: Parolees in New York — a trendsetting state if there ever was one — can vote now that embattled Gov. Andrew Cuomo quietly signed legislation Tuesday to restore that most basic democratic right to hundreds of thousands of people with felonies on their records.
For the last three years, formerly incarcerated people serving out the remainder of their sentences on parole were able to vote under a previous executive order penned by the Democratic governor. This week, with a lack of fanfare (as in the braggadocios governor and his aggressive media team didn’t even bother to send out a press release), Cuomo signed standalone legislation sent to him by the legislature which officially enshrines the policy in New York’s books.
This is all happening as the third term governor faces a multitude of scandals — some of which could land the once popular governor behind bars himself. If that happens, this very change in statute would benefit Cuomo himself.
“This is a good day for New York State’s democracy and our communities. People on parole live and work in our cities and towns, and by automatically restoring their right to vote, New York is finally welcoming them as full participants in society”Sean Morales-Doyle
Still, even with Cuomo’s stained record tainting the celebration, a group of lawmakers in Albany — along with many long term advocates for electoral and criminal justice reform — are heralding the change as a victory with potential national implications.
“This is a good day for New York State’s democracy and our communities,” Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, wrote after the governor signed the measure. “People on parole live and work in our cities and towns, and by automatically restoring their right to vote, New York is finally welcoming them as full participants in society.”
Other longtime advocates are also elated. For nearly two decades Donna Lieberman has served as director of the New York state chapter of the ACLU.
“This systemic injustice has roots in our state’s white supremacist history and has, across generations, suppressed the participation of Black and Latinx New Yorkers in the most fundamental aspect of democracy: voting,” Lieberman wrote after the news broke.
Republicans still had a narrow hold on the state Senate back in 2018, and the executive order issued by Cuomo then effectively gave a narrow pardon that specifically restored voting rights to people on parole. Over 67,000 such pardons have been issued in the last three years, according to the governor’s office.
If merely left as an executive order the seismic shift in policy could have been quickly scrapped by the next governor (or the next…). It’s now officially codified into New York state law, which means a future legislature would need to reverse this new course; not merely Cuomo’s successor.
“I strongly believe that restoring the right 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,” Cuomo wrote in a memo accompanying his bill signing.
The above memo wasn’t blasted out to the general public by the embattled governor or his team of communications specialists. It was provided to The News Station upon request — meaning many of the very prisoners and former inmates the new law is intended to help may still be left in the dark when it comes to their new right in the Empire State.