NY Governor to Grant Voting Rights to Parolees

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New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that he will use an executive order to restore the voting rights of tens of thousands of parolees in the Empire State. The New York Times has more:

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Wednesday that he intends to restore voting rights to felons on parole, a move that could open the ballot box to more than 35,000 people.

The mechanism through which Mr. Cuomo plans to do so is unusual: He would consider pardons for all 35,000 people currently on parole in New York, as well as any new convicted felons who enter the parole system each month.

The move amounts to a legal sidestep of the State Legislature, where the Republican-controlled Senate has opposed many of Mr. Cuomo’s proposed criminal justice reforms. It does not change state law, which currently bars convicted felons from voting unless they are on probation or have completed parole.

Mr. Cuomo made the announcement at the National Action Network’s annual convention in New York City, where he was introduced by the group’s founder, the Rev. Al Sharpton. The governor said he had proposed legislation allowing parolees to vote, but that it had been rejected by the State Senate.

“I’m unwilling to take no for an answer,” Mr. Cuomo said. “I’m going to make it law by executive order,” he added, continuing, “With active intervention, we can bend the arc toward justice.”

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor, later clarified that Mr. Cuomo had proposed the idea during closed-door budget negotiations but that the idea was shot down; no bill was ever advanced.

Mr. Cuomo’s executive order would require the commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to submit a list of every felon currently on parole, as well as a list of those newly eligible for parole, beginning May 1, said Alphonso David, the governor’s counsel.

The commissioner would continue to submit an updated list each month, with each parolee “given consideration for a conditional pardon that will restore voting rights without undue delay,” according to the order.

Anyone on the list would be eligible for a pardon, Mr. David said, so long as law enforcement had not flagged any special concerns.

The pardon would not expunge a felon’s record nor would it restore other rights stripped from them, such as the right to serve on a jury. Mr. Azzopardi called the executive order a “narrow use of power.”

Mr. Cuomo’s plan would bring New York in line with 18 other states, as well as Washington, D.C., that allow parolees to vote, according to the governor’s office. Fourteen states automatically restore felons’ rights when they are paroled; two never remove them in the first place; and two — Iowa and Virginia — also use executive orders to issue pardons.

Civil-rights advocates hailed Mr. Cuomo’s decision as a long overdue step toward helping former inmates re-enter society.

“If we want to give people the opportunity to successfully live in our communities, we want to give them the opportunity to vote and be stakeholders,” Myrna Pérez, director of the Voting Rights and Elections Project at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said.

But Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, cautioned that the state still had “a lot of work to do before we can call ourselves a paragon of democracy,” noting ongoing political gerrymandering and other stalled efforts to enact electoral reform…

The issuance of 35,000 pardons at once would be remarkable for any governor, but it is particularly so for Mr. Cuomo, who, during his first two years in office, did not issue any pardons; by the end of his fifth year, he had issued eight. To date, he has issued 174 pardons, bolstered by more than 100 conditional pardons he issued in 2016 to people convicted of nonviolent crimes as minors.

Much of the coverage of this announcement has focused on the impact it will have on the 2018 race for Governor, but this is also a significant story on the administrative side as well. Assuming the order isn’t challenged in court (which is always possible if not an outright certainty) how it works in practice – given the difficulties other states have experienced in harmonizing correctional databases and voter lists – remains to be seen regardless of its political effects. It’s a huge step for a big state – stay tuned!

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