In the modern prison industrial complex, things most people take for granted become the most coveted of riches to those incarcerated. The right to vote, for instance, gets taken away with all one’s belongings once one is imprisoned. What happens to that right after the same inmate has been rehabilitated is often a topic of debate.
The New York State Assembly recently passed legislation restoring the ability to vote to persons who have been released on parole supervision, as a means to better facilitate their reintegration into society and encourage their participation in the civic process.
The legislation applies only to those individuals who have been released under supervision and establishes requirements to ensure that these individuals are notified immediately of their restored rights upon release to parole. Many ex-convicts are currently not aware that they are eligible to vote once their parole supervision expires.
“Preventing citizens on parole from exercising their constitutional right to vote is a significant barrier to full reintegration,” said Election Law Committee Chair and New York State Assembly Member Latrice Walker. “Too often members of our communities, who are on parole, are disenfranchised for years during supervision and never register to vote when they become eligible simply because they do not know they have become eligible. This bill restores the right to vote upon release from incarceration to help these individuals fully reintegrate and ensure they do not become permanently disenfranchised.”
New York law does currently allow those convicted of felonies the right to vote after they have been discharged from parole or their sentences have reached the maximum expiration date, however, this may not take place until a formerly incarcerated person has spent years readjusting to their new community.
The legislation serves to immediately restore those individuals’ right to vote, rather than delaying the process for months to years or until the individual parolee has been discharged from parole or reached the maximum supervision date, which were the previous standards for voting restoration.
Current New York state law stipulates that convicted felons released from imprisonment cannot vote under parole supervision unless they had their voting rights restored by a certificate of relief, which only comes as an add-on with good conduct or in the form of a pardon from the governor himself.
In 2018, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order establishing a procedure for the restoration of voting rights to former inmates through conditional pardons. Under his system, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) provides the governor’s office with a full list of individuals released to parole supervision on a monthly basis.
From there, the governor’s office reviews the list and issues the pardons, which since 2018 amounts to roughly 60,000 New Yorkers being granted a conditional pardon and restored voting rights. The new legislation eliminates the need for that process and hopefully will speed up the reintegration process for the parolees.
“People on parole live, work, and actively contribute to our communities - yet they have no voice in government,” said New York State Assembly Member Daniel J. O’Donnell. “To fully reintegrate parolees back into civic life, we need to recognize that every citizen has equal worth and deserves the right to vote. That is why I have been fighting for parolee re-enfranchisement for more than a decade. With the passage of this bill, we are one step closer to dismantling the vestiges of segregation-era felony disenfranchisement in New York.”
The bill also stipulates that the parolees be provided a voter registration/declination form, receive assistance if necessary when filling out the voter registration form, and be given rudimentary voter education materials by the board of elections. In doing so, the new legislation aims to help lessen voter disenfranchisement among communities reintroducing these individuals to society.
“The Assembly Majority knows that voting is a fundamental right of our democracy and is an integral part of community and civic engagement,” said New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of the legislation. “This legislation would end the disenfranchisement of people who are actively working to rehabilitate themselves and reengage with their communities and public life.”