Bill OKs voting right for former prisoners

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ALBANY — Formerly incarcerated people who have been recently released from state prison in New York would automatically regain the right to vote, according to legislation passed in Albany on Wednesday.

The legislation, which awaits Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signature, would make a three-year-old practice that restored voting rights to parolees using an approval process permanent, according to an announcement by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“The Assembly Majority knows that voting is a fundamental right of our democracy and is an integral part of community and civic engagement,” said Heastie. “This legislation would end the disenfranchisement of people who are actively working to rehabilitate themselves and reengage with their communities and public life.”

The legislation would restore voting rights to individuals released and under supervision, rather than delaying restoration of the right to vote for months or years until the person has been discharged from parole or reached the maximum expiration (supervision) date, Heastie said. Additionally, the legislation would establish requirements to ensure these individuals are notified that their voting rights are restored upon release.

The bill would also require that releasees be provided a voter registration/declination form, assistance in filling out the form, and other voter education materials provided by the board of elections.

Under current law, individuals convicted of felonies who have been released from prison cannot vote while they are under community supervision unless they have had the right restored by a certificate of relief, a certificate of good conduct or a pardon from the governor.

In general, New York law allows individuals convicted of felonies to vote after they have been discharged from parole or reached the maximum expiration of their sentences, which might not take place until after a formerly incarcerated person has spent many years in the community. Once supervision is over, many formerly incarcerated individuals do not register to vote because they are not aware that they are eligible, Heastie’s announcement added.

In 2018, the governor signed an executive order establishing a regular procedure for restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated individuals through conditional pardons. Under this system, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) has each month provided a list to the governor’s office of individuals who were released to parole supervision that month.

The governor’s office reviews the list and grants these limited pardons.

Since 2018, more than 60,000 New Yorkers under post-release supervision have been granted a conditional pardon restoring voting rights pursuant to this executive order.

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