Queens senator’s bill restoring voting rights to people on parole signed into law

State Senator Leroy Comrie announces his legislation to restore voting rights to former prisoners was signed into law. (Photo courtesy of NYS Senate)

New Yorkers released from prison will have their voting rights restored after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed state Senator Leroy Comrie’s legislation into law Wednesday, May 5.

The new law is the latest is a series of steps that New York has taken to change its antiquated voting laws, which just a few years ago were among the most restrictive in the country.

“Felony disenfranchisement is a relic of Jim Crow America, so there is no need to wonder why it disproportionately impacts people of color and the poor,” Comrie said. “We can no longer stand by and allow poverty to be criminalized. I commend my colleagues in government for helping us codify into law the access to vote for the formerly incarcerated. Across our nation, we see voting rights being restricted and as New Yorkers, we have to lead as that sends a signal to others on how we should be making the right to vote more accessible, more transparent and more available to all.”

The newly signed law amends election law to require the automatic restoration of voting rights upon an incarcerated individual’s release from prison. Under this new system, criminal defendants will be informed before conviction and sentencing to prison that they will lose their voting rights. Prior to the person who was incarcerated’s release, the Department of Corrections and Probation and Parole will assist with voter registration to ensure a smooth transition to civic participation, by providing a voter registration form as they leave the prison.

Previously, people released on parole and under community supervision for felonies would have to wait months or years to vote, until that oversight period had ended.

By clarifying that people on parole and probation can vote, the law stops local boards of elections from turning away parolees on election day. It also requires boards of election to provide voting education materials to the public, parole officers and judges.

“Voting is a fundamental right, and no one should have to fight to access that right,” said Manhattan Assemblyman Danny O’Donnell, who sponsored the legislation in the lower chamber. “For the past two years, we made history by passing sweeping legislation that made voting easier in New York. For too long, restricting the right to vote has been used as a tool to silence and exclude communities of color. I am proud that this legislation removes one more barrier to equal representation in our state. Studies show that when people on parole know that they deserve to participate in government, they feel more connected to the community and are more likely to reintegrate into society successfully. Together, we have helped New York realize a principle that our segregation-era laws have sought to deny: every citizen has equal worth and deserves the right to vote.”