New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order yesterday (April 18) that restores voting rights for state parolees. It’s a move that bypasses the Republican-led New York State Senate, which has previously rejected similar legislative measures.
An estimated 35,000 fomerly incarcerated people stand to benefit from the order, which will restore rights to those currently on parole as well as people who enter the parole system in the future. New York joins Washington D.C. and 14 other states that automatically restore voting rights to people when they are released from incarceration.
In announcing the measure, Cuomo pointed to the disproportionate impact current voting laws have on communities of color, adding that Black and Latinx New Yorkers represent 71 percent of those disenfranchised by voting restrictions on parolees.
"I am issuing an executive order giving parolees the right to vote. It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have paid their debt and have re-entered society," Cuomo said in a statement. "This reform will reduce disenfranchisement and will help restore justice and fairness to our democratic process. Withholding or delaying voting rights diminishes our democracy."
More than 6 million Americans are barred from voting due to felony convictions, according to a study by The Sentencing Project, which adds that one in 13 Blacks are unable to vote for this reason, versus one in 56 non-Black voters. In four states—Florida, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee—one in five Black people are disenfranchised. Nationwide, 2.2 million formerly incarcerated Black people are banned from voting, according to the study.
Cuomo’s order calls on the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to provide a list of people on parole. Each parolee’s pardon will be given consideration, according to the executive order, which reads:
From this date forward, individuals being released from incarceration onto parole supervision and individuals who are currently under parole supervision will be given consideration for a conditional pardon that will restore voting rights without undue delay. Beginning May 1, 2018, the Commissioner shall submit a monthly record of individuals who have been released from prison onto parole supervision in the prior month.
Cuomo’s move drew applause from some liberal groups. Donna Leiberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the executive order is "crucial to encouraging civic participation, making our political process more inclusive, and ensuring that formerly incarcerated people return to their communities successfully."
New York Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan blasted Cuomo’s order to press as "illegal" because it circumvents the legislature. He added that the move is a direct response to pressure the governor faces from Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo for the Democratic nomination.
Nixon on Wednesday criticized Cuomo’s executive order as insufficient and overdue.
"For eight years, Cuomo governed like a Republican—handing control of our state to his ultra-rich donors and the party of Trump," she tweeted. "Now he’s scared of communities all across New York who want to replace him with a real Democrat. We don’t buy the governor’s new song-and-dance routine. Voter suppression in New York should have ended eight years ago, from the rights of parolees to access to early voting and automatic registration."
Racial justice group Color of Change, while lauding Cuomo’s move, encouraged the governor to further pursue reforms to a criminal justice system that has disproportionately targeted people of color.
"This executive order to restore voting rights of people on parole is a critical move towards repairing the broken systems that not only tears Black families apart and robs them of economic potential and political power—but we are hesitant to celebrate until we hear concrete next steps from the Governor Cuomo and his plan to change this racist industry," executive director Rashad Robinson said in a statement.