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Ad Campaign Launched to Help NYers with Criminal Records Vote in '08

Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx buses to feature posters from voting rights groups.

September 10, 2008
For Immediate Release: 

Contact: Tim Bradley, BerlinRosen Public Affairs, 646–452–5637

Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx Buses to Feature Posters from Voting Rights Groups

New York – Today the Brennan Center for Justice joined the New York Civil Liberties Union, The Fortune Society, Citizens Against Recidivism, and a former parolee from Brooklyn to announce a six-week statewide campaign to help New Yorkers with criminal records know their rights and register to vote in time for the 2008 election. Every election, thousands of eligible New Yorkers with felony convictions are illegally denied the right to register and vote because of persistent confusion and noncompliance on the part of elections officials.

“More than 120,000 New Yorkers are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction in their past, even though tens of thousands of them are individuals who are out of prison, living in the community, working, paying taxes and raising families,” said Erika Wood, Deputy Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“Many New Yorkers with felony convictions do not know whether they are eligible to vote, and many election workers unfortunately do not know either, or provide misinformation that discourages New Yorkers from exercising their right to vote. We are launching this campaign to help thousands of New Yorkers with criminal records understand their rights so that they can participate in the 2008 election,” she continued.

As nearly one thousand NYC bus ads will explain, New Yorkers with criminal records can vote while they are on probation or once they have completed parole. After parole, voting rights are automatically restored, but individuals must register in order to vote. Registration forms are available from the post office, local library, state and city agencies, or through groups like the Fortune Society and the New York City Liberties Union. No special documentation is needed to register. Under New York law people in prison and on parole cannot vote.

“People on probation can vote, and people who have been discharged from parole can vote. Due to the misinformation out there, we want to get the word out, and we encourage everyone who is eligible to vote to register today,” stated Wood.

Multiple Brennan Center studies have shown that county election officials are unclear about the law.

In 2006, a Brennan Center report revealed that one-third of all New York State counties refused to register people on probation, even though they never lose the right to vote, including 3 out of 5 New York City boroughs. A third of the local election boards also illegally required individuals to show documentation or proof of their eligibility status.

In 2005, researchers also found that about half of New Yorkers surveyed incorrectly believed they were ineligible to vote while on probation and about 30% believed that they lost their right to vote if they had only been arrested, but not convicted, for a crime. Nearly 30% of people with felony convictions in New York thought they would never be eligible to vote again. And more than 60% of those surveyed had never been given any information about their voting rights.

“Perhaps more than any election in recent history, this year reminds us why the right to vote matters. But across the country, there are 5.3 million American citizens who are routinely denied the right to vote due a prior felony conviction. New York has the opportunity to put an end to this tremendous barrier to the franchise, and we hope the education campaign in the comings weeks will encourage all New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote,” said Wood.

IN addition to approximately 900 bus ads, the campaign will include train advertisements, radio PSAs, a voting rights toolkit, a comprehensive web site, and a series of web videos created to educate the public on the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated. Two of the videos follow Maria Perez, a Brooklyn woman who completed parole in 2000, as she attempts to reclaim her voting rights.

The bus ads went up at the beginning of September and will remain posted through the deadline for New York resident to register, October 10th.

An electronic copy of the poster is available.

Erika Wood’s full statement can be found here.