On May 4, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation automatically restoring voting rights for all New Yorkers who are not in prison.
Disenfranchisement in New York
Prior to changing its law on May 4, 2021, New York law disenfranchised people on parole, though Governor Cuomo began using his pardon power to restore their voting rights in April 2018. New York was also one of only a handful of states that allowed people on probation to vote but disenfranchised those on parole.
New York’s disenfranchisement policy was rooted in Jim Crow-era attempts to evade the Fifteenth Amendment’s mandate that Black men be given the right to vote. And because of systemic racism in the criminal legal system, nearly three-quarters of New Yorkers who could not previously vote because they were on parole were Black or Latinx.
- In the spring of 2021, legislators introduced S.830 and A.4448 to automatically restore voting rights to people on parole, as well as provide notice to individuals of their voting rights and a process for voter registration upon their release from prison. S.830 passed the state senate in February and the state assembly in April. It was signed into law by Governor Cuomo on May 4, 2021. The Brennan Center worked with a broad coalition of New York-based groups for years to secure the bill’s passage.
- In advance of the 2021 legislative session, a coalition of organizations including the Brennan Center sent a letter to the Governor and the state legislative leadership urging them to prioritize enacting legislation to restore voting rights to all New Yorkers upon release from prison in the new legislation session. Letters in support were also submitted by a variety of law enforcement officials and organizations, including Albany County District Attorney P. David Soares, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, Ulster County District Attorney David Clegg, Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah, and the American Probation and Parole Association.
- On February 3, 2020, Senators Leroy Comrie and Zellnor Myrie, the sponsors of S. 1931, hosted a briefing on the legislation and the importance of restoring voting rights to people on parole for their fellow legislators. The Brennan Center gave a presentation at the briefing alongside Alejo Rodriguez, community liaison at Exodus Transitional Community and a recipient of a voting rights pardon from Governor Cuomo.
- In the spring of 2019, legislators introduced A. 4987 and S. 1931, which would restore voting rights to people on parole. The legislation would also provide a process for voter registration upon release from prison. Letters in support of the bill were submitted by Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, and Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clarke, to the Elections Committee leaders and lead bill sponsors.
- In 2018, a coalition of organizations led by the National Action Network and the Brennan Center organized to meet with legislators and advocate for passage of legislation to restore rights to people on parole.
- 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. A number of organizations submitted letters in support of A. 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 August 2010, after many years of advocacy, New York passed a budget bill (A. 9706) that included a requirement that correctional facilities 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.
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
- Governor Cuomo Signs Bill to Restore Voting Rights to People on Parole (May 4, 2021)
- Brennan Center Statement: New York State Assembly Passes Bill to Restore Voting Rights to People on Parole (April 21, 2021)
- Brennan Center Statement on New York Senate Voting to Restore Voting Rights to People on Parole (February 24, 2021)
- Testimony of Sean Morales-Doyle Before the New York City Council (Oct. 3, 2018)
- New York Senate Committee to Finally Emerge in Public, but Only to Limit Voting Rights, Sean Morales-Doyle (Oct. 1, 2018)
- New Promise for Restoring Voting Rights in New York, Kwame Akosah (June 20, 2016)
- Memorandum of Support: A. 7634/S. 2023 (Apr. 29, 2016)
- Testimony of Kwame Akosah Before the New York City Council (Feb. 29, 2016)
- Featured Voice: An Interview with Bernard Kerik, Carson Whitelemons (Nov. 19, 2014)
- New York Passes Two Landmark Democracy Reforms, Erika Wood (Aug. 4, 2010)
- Jim Crow in New York (Feb. 12, 2010)
- Key Issues in Hayden v. Pataki (July 10, 2009)
- Judge Sotomayor in Good Company in Restoring Voting Rights, Erika Wood (June 2, 2009)
- Voter Education at Rikers Island, Liz Budnitz (Nov. 21, 2008)
- Testimony to the NY State Commission on Sentencing Reform, Erika Wood (Nov. 13, 2007)
- Board of Elections Continue Illegally to Disfranchise Voters with Felony Convictions (Mar. 2006)
- Testimony of Wendy Weiser Before the Government Operations Committee of the New York City Council (May 25, 2005)
- Joint Testimony Before City Council on Local Law to Amend New York City Pro-Voter Law(Nov. 30, 2004)
- The Power of the Executive Order: Restoring Voting Rights to People with Felony Convictions in New York
- New York’s Next Step Toward More Justice and Better Democracy, Zellnor Myrie & Leroy Comrie, Gotham Gazette (May 25, 2020)
- Restore Parolees’ Voting Rights Permanently, and Do It Now, Cy Vance, New York Daily News (May 21, 2019)
- Barred from the Ballot Box, Vice News (Apr. 20, 2016) [Video]
- There’s a Long List of Voting Reforms New York Can Pass, Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette (Apr. 22, 2016)
- Racial Roots Underlie Debate on Felons’ Voting Rights, John Eligon, New York Times (Feb. 12, 2010)
Brennan Center Publications
- Restoring the Right to Vote, Erika Wood (2009)
- The Brennan Center’s policy proposal for restoring voting rights for citizens with past criminal convictions.
- My First Vote (2009)
- Testimonials of individuals who regained their voting rights after being disenfranchised because of 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.
- Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History, Erin Kelley (2017)
- A piece examining the historical roots of criminal disenfranchisement laws that today strip voting rights from millions of U.S. citizens.
For more information about the Brennan Center’s work on Restoring Voting Rights in New York, please contact Derek Paulhus, at email@example.com.