Cuomo Restoring Voting Rights to NY Parolees

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo will restore the voting rights of more than 34,000 parolees in the Empire State.

A tip of the hat to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced today that he’s using his executive authority to restore the voting rights of parolees in the Empire State.

The move is a slap at the New York legislature, which defeated a Cuomo-backed bill to permit voting by parolees. And because Cuomo is running for a third term in Albany, his announcement no doubt will be seen by some as a bid to round up additional votes; across New York, nearly 34,000 people are under parole supervision.

The governor’s plan also appears to have a built-in loophole; he will restore the rights of parolees by using his power to pardon them, but apparently is reserving the right to withhold action on any parolee if law enforcement authorities object to the restoration. The system shapes up as an administrative headache and Common Cause New York will be watching to see how it works; we’ll also continue to press for legislation making the restoration of rights automatic and permanent.

Whatever the governor’s motive or flaws in his approach, he’s on the right track. People released from prison are considered to have paid their debt to society and are expected to become productive citizens. It’s only fair that as we ask them to assume the responsibilities of citizenship, we extend to them the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote.

Thirty-four states deny them that right however, and 12 keep ex-offenders off the voter rolls permanently or require them to complete a waiting period and/or a review process after they’re released from state supervision before restoring their rights. Because people convicted of felonies are disproportionally members of racial minorities, policies denying their voting rights are increasingly seen as part of an attempt to suppress minority representation in local, state and federal governments.