Brian Pearson, a VOCAL-NY member from Queens who is formerly incarcerated, delivered the following statement during the launch of the New York Voter Empowerment Act of New York. The bill, introduced by Senator Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, would modernize the state’s antiquated voter registration system, an idea first proposed by the Brennan Center in 2008.
My name is Brian Pearson, I’m a leader of VOCAL New York and recently off of parole.
After getting off of parole in January, I went to get my license. No one asked me to register to vote. I also re-certified for Medicaid. Again, no one asked me to register to vote. In March, after losing temporary construction work, I applied for unemployment. No one asked me to register.
It shouldn’t be like this. And if this law passes, it won’t be. We need to eliminate the barriers to people voting. Eliminate the barriers to people engaging in the democratic process. This is especially important for low-income New Yorkers who are struggling daily just to get, when an important issue like registering to vote can become an afterthought.
Today, I stand here to announce an embarrassing fact, I am not registered to vote!
Now, you could ask me why I didn’t register to vote. My response, I was re-integrating from 4 years of being incarcerated. I was trying to find and maintain work. I was trying to be a good father for my 11 year old daughter. I was, and am, a struggling, low-income New Yorker trying to get by.
But most importantly, every time I went to the government for a basic need, they never took the opportunity to engage me in the democratic process.
I am signing this voter register form right after this press conference and joining the other New Yorkers participating in our democracy. But after this legislation passes there won’t be anymore stories like mine. We will eliminate the barriers to voting and to our democratic process for so many New Yorkers like myself.
For more information about the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, please click here.