Assemblyman Keith Wright of Harlem held a meeting in his Harlem district last night to discuss several voting rights issues, including voting rights restoration for convicted felon, voter registration and stagnant voter turnout, and the upstate/downstate reapportionment divide. Organizations represented on the panel included the NAACP, The Legal Action Center, The New York City Board of Elections, and 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement.
Mr. Wright discussed his legislation, passed in the House, which would require parole officers, judges, and other involved in the criminal release/re-entry process to inform individuals released from prison of their restored right to vote. Though the bill places little burden on the justice system, the Senate has yet to act on the bill and seems unlikely to take action any time soon.
Some lively exchanges took place between Board of Elections rep Gregory Soumas and the audience, who pressed him on mysterious challenge lists that had allegedly been distributed to every election districts in the City to election officials to target voters. Another common complaint, shared by Soumas, was the lack of funding for the Board and the accessibility of voting information, particularly in low-income areas and communities of color.
Several audience members touched on the unfair practice of counting prisoners as residents of the New York City in the places that they are incarcerated, rather than the places the prisoners lived prior to being convicted. Because 75% of New York's prison population comes from the 5 boroughs, downstate suffers both on representational grounds, but on economic grounds as well. This was not lost on either the panelists or the audience.