Andrew Cuomo signs bill restoring felons' right to vote after release, says it makes New York 'safer, fairer'

Andrew Cuomo signs bill restoring felons' right to vote after release, says it makes New York 'safer, fairer'
New York's Andrew Cuomo has become another Democratic governor to sign a bill to restore voting rights of felons after prison sentence (Getty Images)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, May 4, signed a bill that restores the voting rights to convicted felons in the state as soon as they are released, even if they are on parole. The state law codifies a 2018 executive order that allowed the Democratic leader to individually pardon those on paroles. As per the bill, officials of the correction department need to provide a voter registration form to a felon at the time of leaving the facility. Earlier, the parolees had to wait for a period of four to six weeks to get a pardon and had to register as voters on their own. The law immediately goes into effect immediately, although some of its portions are delayed until 120 days after its signing, as per the bill text. The New York legislature passed the bill last month.

Backing the bill, Cuomo, 63, said in a statement: “I strongly believe that restoring the right to vote to people who have paid their debt to society strengthens our democracy, promotes successful reentry into the community, and makes New York a safer and fairer place to live.” The governor had previously said that minorities have been disproportionately hit by the voting prohibition and restoring their voting rights can help convicted felons to re-establish ties to their communities as disciplined citizens. 


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Cuomo’s former press secretary Caitlin Girouard had said something similar in late 2019 after over 49,000 parolees in New York saw their voting rights getting restored under a conditional pardon order signed by Cuomo. “Restoring the right to vote to people who have paid their debt to society only strengthens our democracy, while promoting successful re-entry into our community and ultimately, making New York a safer and more just place to live,” she said in an email.


'This legislation removes one more barrier'

New York Assembly lawmaker Daniel O’Donnell, a co-sponsor of the bill (state Senator Leroy Comrie is the other one), expressed his satisfaction over the bill seeing the light of the day. In a statement, he said he is proud “that this legislation removes one more barrier to equal representation in our state”.

“Studies show that when people on parole know that they deserve to participate in government, they feel more connected to the community and are more likely to reintegrate into society successfully,” the Democrat, said, adding: “Together, we have helped New York realize a principle that our segregation-era laws have sought to deny: every citizen has equal worth and deserves the right to vote.”


Other Democrat-ruled states made similar moves

Cuomo, who has battled a couple of serious allegations lately, including mismanagement of Covid-19 patients and sexual misconducts, is not the first Democratic governor to have such action. In April, his Washington counterpart Jay Inslee signed into law a bill that restores voting rights of people who have served prison terms for felony convictions but may still be on parole and have legal fines to pay.


Washington Democratic Governor Jay Inslee (Getty Images)

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, when the Washington law comes into effect in 2022, it will result in restoration of voting rights of more than 20,000 people in the state. Currently, felons in the state can have their voting rights back after completing their entire sentence conditions. The Brennan Center also said the Evergreen State would become the 20th state to restore voting rights for those released from prison. The center also said in another report in April that 843 bills to expand voting access have been introduced in as many as 47 states and it is the Democrats who have largely been behind them. 

Critics of the Democrat-ruled states’ moves in the Republican Party opined that completing probation and fulfilling “legal financial obligations” should be met before one’s voting rights are restored. Washington Republican House member Jenny Graham said in a statement in February that responsibility comes first, even before voting rights. “When somebody makes a decision to harm or kill another individual, there is accountability that is due,” she said.


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 Andrew Cuomo signs bill restores felons right to vote after release, says it makes NY safer fairer