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New York State Assembly Praised for Passing "Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act"

For Immediate Release:
Friday, June 23, 2006

New York State Assembly Praised for Passing “Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act”
Senate Urged to Pass Law
To Educate New Yorkers About Voter Eligibility

New York, NY This week, the New York Assembly passed the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act (Assembly Bill 11652), legislation designed to notify New Yorkers with felony convictions of their voter eligibility status.  Voting rights advocates at Demos, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and the Legal Action Center praised the bill “as an effort to correct longstanding problems with New York State practice.”

Assemblyman Keith Wright, Chair of the Committee on Election Law, led the Assembly effort to pass the bill.  Too many New Yorkers have been misinformed about their voter eligibility for too long.  The Assembly sent a strong message this week that voting is a fundamental right and I encourage the Senate to do the same when it reconvenes, says Wright.

The Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act, Assembly Bill 11652, will correct misinformation by providing clear and systematic notice to individuals of their voting rights as they complete their maximum prison sentences or are discharged from parole.  It will also require criminal justice agencies to provide assistance with voter registration and voting by absentee ballot, and will assure that corrections and elections agencies share the data necessary to verify voter eligibility.

“The Assembly vote has put us one step closer to securing the voting rights of all eligible New Yorkers.  Upon reconvening, the Senate should express its commitment to protecting the voting rights of all New Yorkers by immediately passing this bill,” said Glenn Martin of the Legal Action Center.

While New York election law disfranchises only those individuals incarcerated or on parole because of a felony conviction, there is a widespread misunderstanding of the law among affected communities and elections officials.  A recent report by The Sentencing Project found that close to 60 percent of New Yorkers under the supervision of the criminal justice system incorrectly believed that an individual on probation could not vote, and more than 60 percent reported that no one ever informed them of their voting rights. 

A recent survey by the Brennan Center and Demos found that approximately half of New York’s 63 local boards of elections were not aware of the eligibility requirements.  Thousands of eligible New Yorkers may have been misinformed as a result. 

The New York State Board of Elections has recently taken steps to educate elections officials about the voting rights of people with felony convictions.  Nevertheless, this legislation is necessary to both remedy past errors and to ensure that these errors are not allowed to continue, according to the advocacy groups.

“This bill will correct an epidemic of misinformation and misunderstanding of the law among election officials and people with felony convictions, said Miles Rapoport, President of Demos. It will provide clear and systematic notice to individuals of their voting rights as they complete their maximum prison sentences or are discharged from parole.

“Voting is a fundamental right,” said Erika Wood of the Brennan Center. “All citizens are entitled to accurate information about their right to vote and, when eligible, should be given every opportunity to participate in the democratic process.”

For more information visit:
www.demos.org
www.brennancenter.org
www.lac.org