Bill that restores voting rights to people on parole is now headed to the governor’s desk

Legislative Gazette file photo

On April 21, the state Assembly passed bill S.830/A.4448 that would automatically restore voting rights to individuals who were formerly incarcerated, convicted of a felony. The Senate previously passed the bill on Feb. 24.

New York is one of the few states that allows people released into community supervision the right to vote, along with Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Montana, Utah, New Hampshire and 14 other states. 

The bill is sponsored by Senator Leroy Comrie and Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell. The legislation refines the executive order that granted voting pardons to 35,000 New Yorkers on parole in 2018. Currently, parolees would wait between 4 – 6 weeks to receive a pardon and then must register to vote on their own. The bill would grant voting rights automatically.

“By passing this bill, the state Assembly has sent a clear message: if you live in the community, you should be able to vote,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Disenfranchising people on parole is a vestige of Jim Crow and because of the racial disparities plaguing New York State’s criminal justice system, it has had an enormous impact on Black and Latino New Yorkers. We look forward to the governor putting an end to it by signing this bill into law.”

The bill also ensures that prisoners are notified of their right to vote upon release, that they are provided enrollment paperwork, and are provided assistance filling it out, if needed.

Parole disenfranchisement in New York was designed to prevent Black men from voting, and we see the legacy of these laws in the largely Black and Latinx parolee population today,” O’Donnell said. “With the passage of this bill, we are one step closer to dismantling the vestiges of segregation-era felony disenfranchisement in New York. We are sending a clear message to the rest of the country: the right to vote is foundational to our democracy and should be expanded, not restricted.”

The legislation has drawn the ire of conservative legislators, including Assemblyman Mike Lawler, R-Pearl River, who calls the bill “insane.”

“I simply cannot understand why any elected official in New York state would vote to give some of the most heinous criminals in our country the right to vote,” Lawler said this week. “In honor of Paula Bohovesky, Peter Paige, Officer Waverly Brown, and Sgt. Edward O’Grady, who lost their lives to criminals who have been released on parole or are soon to be released on parole, I voted against this bill. 

“These victims of crimes in my district can no longer vote. Their murderers should not be given the right to vote. It’s a slap in the face to the family members who lost their loved ones, to Rockland County residents, and to families who lost brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers to violent crime everywhere.”

The legislation was sent to the governor’s desk on April 22.