Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in New York

July 14, 2016

In New York, voting rights for people with felony convictions are restored upon the completion of incarceration and any parole (people on probation may vote). Over 40,000 New Yorkers are barred from voting despite living and working in their communities.

In 2016, a bill that would end disenfranchisement of citizens on parole passed two state Assembly committees, the furthest progress such a bill has had in recent memory.

Disenfranchisement in New York

New York law disenfranchises citizens while they are incarcerated or on parole for felony convictions. Voting rights are restored to these individuals upon completion of incarceration and any parole. New Yorkers on probation are eligible to vote. Individuals on parole who have no more than one felony conviction may apply to have their voting rights restored by a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.

New York’s distinction between voting eligibility on parole and on probation causes widespread confusion. A 2006 Brennan Center survey found that over a third of New York’s local boards of elections incorrectly responded that New Yorkers on probation are not eligible to vote, or did not know whether they were eligible. And nearly a third of boards illegally requested documentation from New Yorkers with past convictions who were seeking to register to vote. This misinformation exacerbates the impact of disenfranchisement by incorrectly convincing eligible citizens that they cannot vote.

As discussed in the 2010 Brennan Center report Jim Crow in New York, New York’s disenfranchisement policy is firmly rooted in historical racism. Today, the disenfranchisement provision in New York’s constitution is nearly identical to the provision enacted in 1876 amidst a concerted effort to resist enfranchising black men. And the law continues to have a dramatic impact on people of color: nearly three-quarters of disenfranchised New Yorkers on parole are African American or Latino.

Current Advocacy

A coalition of advocacy organizations and supportive legislators are working hard to restore voting rights to the estimated 40,000 New Yorkers who are on parole.  A number of organizations submitted letters in support of New York Assembly Bill 7634, including the Brennan Center, VOCAL-NY, SEIU 1199, Citizen Action, Working Families Party, Legal Action Center, Bend the Arc, and Community Service Society.

In the spring of 2016, A. 7634 passed both the Assembly Elections and Rules Committees — the furthest progress for a New York rights restoration bill in recent years.

Past Legislative Efforts

  • In July 2010, after many years of advocacy, New York passed a law requiring correctional facilities to distribute voter registration application forms to people completing sentences.
  • In January 2009, legislators introduced A. 2266 and S. 1266, also known as the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act. The legislation would have provided notice to individuals of their voting rights once they regained eligibility. The Brennan Center submitted a memorandum in support of the bill, and testified before the Senate Elections Committee, as did The Fortune Society and retired Brooklyn Bureau Chief Leonard Marks.
  • In 2007, legislators introduced A. 554, a bill that required the state to notify people with past convictions when they regain their eligibility to vote, and required criminal justice agencies to provide voter registration assistance to eligible individuals exiting incarceration. Although the bill passed the full Assembly, the Senate refused to consider it. At the time, A. 554 was the 23rd bill of its kind to fail to become law in the previous eight years.

Past Brennan Center Public Education Efforts

Through the years, the Brennan Center has worked to improve New York’s disenfranchisement policies, including through education efforts aimed at decreasing de facto disenfranchisement of eligible New Yorkers.

  • In 2010, the Brennan Center published Jim Crow in New York, a publication that illuminated the racist history of disenfranchisement in New York.
  • In 2008, the Brennan Center worked with the Bronx Defenders and the NYC Department of Corrections to educate individuals at Riker's Island about their voting rights.  
  • In 2006, in order to address election officials’ incompliance with state law, the Brennan Center created training materials for state officials that clarify voting rights and registration procedures relating to people with criminal convictions, as well as drafted recommended language for automated phone messages and website postings and designed a poster on this issue. Counsel to the Board vouched for the Brennan Center’s scripts for county boards to use on their websites and automated telephone answering systems, and the Board incorporated these scripts.

Brennan Center Materials

Press

Brennan Center Publications

  • My First Vote, (2009)
    • Testimonials of individuals who regained their voting rights after being disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions.
  • Restoring the Right to Vote, Erika Wood, (2009)
    • The Brennan Center’s policy proposal for restoring voting rights for citizens with past criminal convictions.
  • De Facto Disenfranchisement, Erika Wood & Rachel Bloom (2008)
    • A report on how complex laws, poorly informed officials, and misinformation lead to the de facto disenfranchisement of citizens with past criminal convictions who are eligible to vote.

For more information about the Brennan Center’s work on Restoring Voting Rights in Virginia, please contact Erin Kelley, at erin.kelley@nyu.edu.