35,000 to 40,000 parolees in New York can now fully participate in the democratic process.
In a statement, Gov. Cuomo said:
“It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have paid their debt and have re-entered society. This reform will reduce disenfranchisement and will help restore justice and fairness to our democratic process. Withholding or delaying voting rights diminishes our democracy.”
Individuals on probation in New York technically never lose their voting rights. County election officials, however, do not distinguish between those on probation and parole, resulting in thousands of disenfranchised mostly African American and Latino citizens.
Although long overdue, timing is eliciting criticism.
A bill intending to restore parolees’ voting rights made some initial headway in the State Assembly in 2016, at which time Cuomo had the executive authority to act. Yet he did not, for which public policy think tank, the Brennan Center for Justice, criticized:
“Cuomo has not mentioned rights restoration as a legislative priority for 2016.”
November happens to be when Cuomo is up for re-election for a third term. His Democratic challenger is actor Cynthia Nixon of Sex and the City fame, running on a platform prioritizing criminal justice reform.
Fordham Law professor, activist, former congressional and 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Zephyr Teachout, tweeted:
“Wasn’t it unconscionable [to deny voting rights to New Yorkers] in 2012?”
Cuomo denies his executive order has anything to do with Nixon’s candidacy. A representative from the governor’s office told The Intercept:
“Governor Cuomo has worked for years on a variety of initiatives aimed at increasing opportunities to vote and removing barriers to re-entry and community reintegration. To suggest otherwise is to disrespect the hard work of the members of the administration who have worked on these initiatives and the stakeholders who have provided critical input and support over the years.
Regardless of his reasons or timing, we should celebrate Cuomo’s measure. New York now joins 18 other states and the District of Columbia in extending voting rights to parolees, a genuinely progressive move.
If Cynthia Nixon’s candidacy effectively moves Cuomo further to the left the way Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) did Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race, there are surely worse political outcomes.
Image credit: NYMag