The Brennan Center has gotten a bit of a rap for only pointing out the problems in Albany. In fact, we realize that our state representatives do a lot of good. The most recent example is an action of the New York Assembly Committee on Election Law. It passed the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act late last week. This bill proposes to reduce barriers to voting by individuals with felony convictions.
Studies have shown that individuals with felony convictions who vote are less likely to return to jail. This should come as no surprise: citizens who are engaged in their communities are more likely to obey its rules. As Americans, one of our most important civic duties is to participate in our political process and vote. We should encourage the formerly incarcerated to partake in this duty, not bar them from it.
Just as importantly, restoring the right to vote for the formerly incarcerated is the right thing to do. Voting is a fundamental right to all free citizens in a democracy. People who have served their time return to their communities to work, pay taxes and send their children to neighborhood schools. As our neighbors, taxpayers and fellow Americans, they should be entitled to exercise the right to vote.
A recent survey conducted by the Brennan Center and Demos revealed that approximately half of all county boards of elections in New York State continue to illegally disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters with criminal convictions.
In New York, people on probation and those convicted of misdemeanors never lose the right to vote. Only those New Yorkers in prison or on parole for a felony conviction are barred from voting. However, as the survey results showed, there remains widespread confusion among elections officials about who is eligible to vote, and many people with felony convictions remain unaware of their voting rights.
The Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act, sponsored by Assemblyman Keith Wright, seeks to address some of these concerns by requiring “clear and systematic notice to individuals of their voting rights as they complete their maximum prison sentences or are discharged from parole.” The bill 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.
Coupled with efforts to better educate elections officials and criminal justice agencies, the Brennan Center hopes that the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act will ensure that people with felony convictions who are eligible to vote are informed about their voting rights so they can fully participate in the political process.
Categories: General, Voting