By Carlotta Mohamed
City Councilman Rory Lancman’s bill that requires the Department of Corrections to inform individuals released from a city jail of their voting rights was approved last week by the City Council on Wednesday.
The Committee on Criminal Justice approved the bill — titled Intro. 514 — Nov. 28 that directs DOC to provide every person released from a city jail with written notice outlining the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals in New York state, and details on voter eligibility.
The DOC must also offer very released individual a voter registration form.
“An overwhelming number of individuals released from DOC custody have the right to vote, yet the majority are unaware of that right,” said Lancman. “We know that rebuilding societal ties reduces recidivism for justice-involved people and my legislation is another step we must take to re-enfranchising those communities.”
Lancman, who recently announced his bid for Queens district attorney —the office is on the ballot in 2019 — introduced the bill to the City Council earlier this year in February.
Members of the Legal Aid Society and the Fortune Society expressed support for the legislation.
“For far too long, the incarceration of our clients has stripped them of their right resulting in the disenfranchisement of entire communities, regardless of their status they are entitled to express their opinion and deserve to be heard just like everyone else,” said Anthony Posada, supervising attorney with the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society.
“The city must do a better job at re-enfranchising individuals and provide them better access to voting,” Posada added. “The Legal Aid Society applauds the Council for passing this important legislation, which is a good first step to begin correcting this injustice.”
Howard Harris, an intake coordinator at The Fortune Society, and a formerly incarcerated individual, said the new law will give others the same chance to fully participate as citizens.
Harris noted his first time-experience as a voter in the November election.
“I felt the power of my vote and knew that it could help change the course of an election,” said Harris. “When all community members are encouraged to exercise their right to vote, it strengthens our democracy, makes our political process more inclusive, and affirms the fundamental rights of all New Yorkers.”
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha