Albany, NY - April 18, 2018 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed an executive order to restore voting rights to individuals on parole. This reform will restore the right to vote upon release from incarceration and reverse disenfranchisement for thousands of New Yorkers. Parole voting restrictions have a disproportionate impact on New Yorkers of color, with African Americans and Hispanic New Yorkers comprising 71 percent of the population so disenfranchised. Civic engagement is linked to reduced recidivism and this action will promote access to the democratic process and improve public safety for all New Yorkers. The executive order is available here.
"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," Governor Cuomo said. "This reform will reduce disenfranchisement and will help restore justice and fairness to our democratic process. Withholding or delaying voting rights diminishes our democracy."
This executive action will reverse New York's current disenfranchisement of individuals released from prison who are under post-release community supervision. New York joins fourteen other states and the District of Columbia that restore the right to vote upon release from incarceration. There are roughly 35,000 individuals currently on parole in New York who cannot vote. These individuals are participants in society at large, despite the limitations placed on them by parole conditions. They work, pay taxes, and support their families, and they should be permitted to express their opinions about the choices facing their communities through their votes, just as all citizens do.
Additionally, the current law keeping people on parole supervision from voting is internally inconsistent with New York's approach to voting for people serving sentences of probation. People on probation never lose the right to vote, but many county election officials are unclear about the distinction between those on parole and those on probation, often resulting in illegal disenfranchisement. A 2006 Brennan Center study reported that one-third of all New York counties incorrectly barred people on probation from registering to vote, while another third of all counties illegally made individuals show proof of their voter eligibility status.
Build on Governor Cuomo's Criminal Justice Reform Accomplishments
Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo in just the past year, New York has passed sweeping criminal justice reforms, including raising the age of criminal responsibility, requiring law enforcement to video-record custodial interrogations for serious offenses, allowing the use of photo arrays to identify witnesses to be admissible at trial, and extending the landmark Hurrell-Harring settlement's indigent criminal defense reforms to the entire state, becoming the first state in the nation to overhaul its public defense system in such a drastic manner.
In addition, the Governor signed Executive Order No. 147 on July 8, 2015, which appointed the New York State Attorney General as special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians in deadly encounters with law enforcement. The order allows the special prosecutor to review cases where there is a question whether the civilian was armed and dangerous at the time of his or her death. It remains the first and only executive order of its kind in the nation.
In the time since Governor Cuomo took office, New York State has closed 24 prisons and juvenile detention centers—more than in any other period under one Governor in state history—decreasing the prison population by more than 6,000 within that time. The Governor also established the Work for Success Initiative which has helped over 20,000 formerly incarcerated people find work upon their release. Additionally, Governor Cuomo formed the state's first Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration in 2014 to address obstacles formerly incarcerated people face upon re-entering society. Since its launch, the Council has helped spur a number of changes to improve re-entry ranging from adopting "Fair Chance Hiring" principles in state agencies to issuing guidance that forbids discrimination at New York-financed housing based on a conviction alone to allowing courts to seal up to two, non-violent criminal convictions for individuals who have been crime-free for at least 10 years. Finally, the Governor has provided approximately $4 million in annual grants to support twenty County Re-Entry Task Forces serving a total of 5,000 individuals returning to their counties after serving a state prison sentence. These individuals have been assessed as needing coordinated substance abuse and mental health treatment; job training, placement and skill development; and cognitive behavioral interventions, which are designed to help individuals change thinking that contributes to criminal behavior, improve positive motivation and further develop social skills.