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Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in New York

New York lawmakers enacted legislation to restore voting rights for all New Yorkers upon release from prison.

Last Updated: May 4, 2021
Published: April 2, 2019

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.

Legis­lat­ive Efforts

  • 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

Press

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 paul­hus­d@bren­nan.law.nyu.edu.