WASHINGTON, DC – Last week, seeking to build upon recent victories in New York’s historic legislative session, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sent a letter to Governor Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Heastie encouraging the enactment of legislation that will restore voting rights for all New Yorkers who are on parole. The request is being made on behalf of the Lawyers’ Committee and thirty-five members of the organization’s Board of Directors, including numerous partners at major law firms in New York State who share a commitment to securing voting reforms that will strengthen our democracy.
The legislation, Senate bill 1931 and Assembly bill 4987, would grant the right to vote to all formerly incarcerated New Yorkers who have been released and are currently on parole, as well as all future parolees. The legislative effort comes on the heels of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s April 2018 decision to grant conditional pardons to persons on parole at that time, and is an important next step to secure voting rights for New York’s minority residents, who are disproportionally disenfranchised under the current law.
New York law currently allows individuals on probation to vote while disenfranchising those on parole. The distinction between probation and parole is a source of confusion among voters and election officials, which not only results in parolees being barred from the ballot box but also to the de facto disenfranchisement of folks on probation who do not know they can vote. S1931/A4987 will not only provide the right to vote to parolees but ensure that they receive assistance from the Department of Corrections with voluntary voter registration prior to their release from prison.
“This legislation provides a great opportunity for New Yorkers to participate in one of the great cornerstones of our democracy, the right to vote. For too long, the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals has been in question and this proposal would help make it clear that their voice matters. We applaud this effort and hope that leaders in New York will work to ensure that residents, regardless of their decisions of the past, will still have an opportunity to participate in our democracy” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“Voting rights shouldn’t be a grey area for citizens in this country, regardless of mistakes they have made in the past. This comprehensive legislation is a good effort to give a voice to those New Yorkers who traditionally have felt disenfranchised. I strongly urge my fellow leaders in state government to work together in making this proposal law,” said John M. Nonna, Westchester County Attorney and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Board Member.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 56th year, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and voting rights.