Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in New York
Current Felony Disenfranchisement Law
New York law disenfranchises individuals in prison or on parole for a felony but allows probationers, misdemeanants, and pretrial detainees to vote.
2010. In July 2010, New York passed the public safety bill, A.B. 9706, that included a new initiative that will require correctional facilities to notify people of their right to vote upon release. This is a significant reform that will correct misinformation about voting rights in New York and help promote civic responsibility upon reentry. The bill mandates that criminal justice agencies must distribute voter registration application forms to eligible former inmates upon completing a maximum sentence. To read Erika Wood's analysis of the notification bill, click here.
After Senate Bill 4643 and Assembly Bill 2445 did not progress in the legislature in 2010, the Brennan Center recommends an Executive Order to restore the right to vote for people on parole. Restoring the right to vote would help reduce recidivism and make people who are reentering society feel connected to their community. To read more about an Executive Order on this issue, please click here.
2009. At the start of the 2009 Legislative session, advocates were once again hopeful in New York. A.B 2266 and S.B 1266, also known as the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act were introduced in January 2009. This bill provides notice to individuals of their voting rights once they regain eligibility. In April 2009, Brennan Center's Erika Wood testified with Glenn Martin from the Fortune Society and retired Brooklyn Bureau Chief Leonard Marks before the Senate Elections Committee in support of S.B. 1266.
The Brennan Center also submitted a memorandum in support of the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act to Senator Montgomery and Assemblyman Wright.
2006. In addition to these advocacy efforts, we assisted in drafting legislation for the 2006 session that would help to ensure that eligible people with convictions can actually register and vote in New York. Our state partners secured the introduction of the bill through the chair of the Assembly Election Committee, and within a few weeks, the full Assembly passed the bill. In 2007, our coalition re-introduced this legislation, and the bill again passed the full Assembly. Unfortunately, the New York State Senate once again refused to consider re-enfranchising over 50,000 New York citizens who are no longer in prison.
Compliance and administrative advocacy
2003. A Brennan Center survey in 2003 revealed widespread confusion among election officials about the law and how to implement it. Advocacy with the state Board of Elections produced a memorandum to the county boards instructing them to register former offenders as they do everyone else.
In conjunction with Demos, the Brennan Center recently conducted a second survey to document election officials’ continuing non-compliance with the law. A report on the findings of that survey reveals that nearly one-third of all counties illegally require documentation before registering an eligible person with a felony conviction or refuse to register individuals on probation. That report attracted significant attention, including a favorable editorial in the New York Times, entitled "Go Away, You Can't Vote."
2006. In the Spring, we took steps to ensure that election officials came into compliance with state law. To further that goal, we created training materials for state officials that clarify the voting rights and registration procedures relating to people with criminal convictions. In addition, we have drafted recommended language for automated phone messages and website postings, both of which serve as important information sources for people seeking to learn more about their voting rights. The Center has also designed an easy-to-read poster on this issue: "Have You Been Convicted of a Felony?" - New York Voting Rights Poster.
As a result of our efforts, counsel to the Board updated and redistributed to all county officials a memorandum outlining the law, including the eligibility of people on probation and the prohibition on demands that potential voters produce criminal records. The State Board held a training session for more than 300 county election officials on the voting rights of people with criminal convictions, administering a pop quiz to reinforce their knowledge of the law. The Board also handed out our informational materials. Counsel to the Board vouched for the Center’s scripts for county boards to use on their websites and automated telephone answering systems. The New York City Board, which was delivering misinformation, has since incorporated these scripts. We anticipate further collaboration with the State Board to support the county boards in complying with the law.
The State Board has also agreed to attend a meeting we and our partners will broker with criminal justice officials whose jobs involve informing people with criminal records of their rights. Our aim is to ensure that corrections, probation, and parole officers give consistent and accurate advice about voting.
Public education efforts
Together with New York advocates, the Brennan Center continues to press for better training and education of the government officials from election workers to parole officers to jail administrators whose jobs involve informing people with criminal records of their rights. The Center has testified in support of New York City legislation to promote such training, drafted sections of bills aimed at requiring appropriate information-sharing among agencies, and prepared Question-and-Answer training materials and a FAQ sheet outlining the basic rules regarding disenfranchisement, rights restoration, and the right to vote while in jail. State advocates use this material in their continuing educational efforts.
2008. The Brennan Center worked with the Bronx Defenders and the NYC DOC to educate individuals at Riker's Island about their voting rights.
2010. We released a new report titled Jim Crow in New York. This report, introduced by Harvard Law Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., traces the history of New York’s criminal disenfranchisement laws through several state constitutional conventions and reveals its roots firmly planted in some of the most discriminatory voting barriers to exist in our country. In March 2010, we held a very successful public discussion about the report at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.