New York State

State Legislature moves to restore voting rights to parolees

The state Senate has passed the decade-old bill for the first time since its introduction

The state Legislature has taken the first step to codifying parolee's right to vote.

The state Legislature has taken the first step to codifying parolee's right to vote. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Nearly three years after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that would grant people on parole the right to vote, the state Legislature has taken the first step to codifying those rights into law after the state Senate passed a bill this week to do just that. 

Under current state law, people on parole are not allowed to vote until after their period of supervised release comes to an end. For years after their release from prison, formerly incarcerated people were kept from the ballot box. And attempting to register to vote could send them back to prison. Legislation to restore voting rights date back to 2009, but Republicans who controlled the state Senate prevented it from ever coming up for a vote. That was still the case in 2018, when Cuomo issued his executive order in lieu of the stalled legislation. It permits him to issue conditional pardons to those on parole allowing them to vote upon their release from prison.

But criminal justice and voting rights activists never stopped advocating for the legislation to ensure that those voting rights are both enshrined in law and automatically restored. They had hoped that Democratic majorities in both chambers in 2019 and 2020 would have resulted in the bill’s passage, but for the past two years, it didn’t even make it out of committee in either the state Senate or the Assembly.

But on Wednesday, the state Senate passed the legislation for the first time. “It's a small but really significant development,” Perry Grossman, senior staff attorney in the Voting Rights Project at the NYCLU, told City & State. “It clears up a lot of confusion in the law, and it shows that these voters matter.” Under the current executive order, people on supervised release have to wait to receive their pardon from the governor, and the state law still technically says it’s illegal to vote. The conditional status of their voting rights and the lack of statutory support has left some on parole wary because even unintentional mistakes can land them back in prison. “It wasn't easy getting the legislature to move on this,” Grossman, who has been closely following this legislation for years, said.

The law has roots that date back about 150 years, an outdated relic of the Jim Crow era meant to keep recently enfranchised Black people from actually exercising that right. “With passage of my bill (this week), we are one step closer to officially correcting an error that has silenced the voices of so many New Yorkers for so long,” state Sen. Leroy Comrie, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. The legislation would provide clarity that anyone who is a citizen and living in the community is allowed to vote. If one has served their time in prison, as soon as they are back in the community, that person would be permitted to vote again. 

Now, the bill awaits passage in the Assembly, but the timeline in that chamber remains unclear. “It’s a bit alarming that a simple bill seeking to chop away at Jim Crow-era voter bans has not yet passed in the New York State Assembly,” Nick Encalada-Malinowski, civil rights campaign director at VOCAL-NY, said in a statement. The legislation, sponsored for the past decade by Assembly Member Danny O’Donnell, is still in committee. It has come close to getting approved in the chamber in past years, but it’s never actually come up for a vote. O’Donnell spokesperson Gabriel Lewenstein said they have “productive conversations” and that they’re “optimistic” it will soon get passed in the chamber. 

The voting rights bill is just one of a long list of criminal justice reforms that advocates are still pushing for this year. They include parole reform like elder parole, which would allow inmates over 55 years old who have served at least 15 years in prison to become eligible for parole, and the Less is More Act, which would eliminate jail time for parole violations. “Im so happy the Senate passed this (voting rights) bill, but we still have a long way to go,” Jovada Senhouse, VOCAL-NY board member, said in a statement. “We aren’t going anywhere until we end solitary confinement, and wrongful convictions, pass parole reform and restore the right to vote to our incarcerated brothers and sisters.”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.