Friday, May 30, 2008

News on Notice

Last week, A554, a bill known as the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act (VRNRA), passed the New York Assembly. . . again. The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Keith Wright, would provide systematic notice about voting rights to those convicted of felonies during sentencing and again when they become eligible to vote. It would also increase public education about voting requirements and would make criminal justice agencies assist with voter registration and absentee voting.

Year after year, legislators have been compelled to introduce bills to correct the gaping information void about voter eligibility for those with criminal convictions (For more on the de facto disenfranchisement of thousands of New Yorkers because of misinformation about voting rights, see a past post on this bill.) Since 1999, over a dozen bills with similar goals to the VRNRA have been introduced in the New York legislature. The vast majority of these bills died in committee. In 2006 the VRNA passed the Assembly, but was never even introduced in the Senate.

But the progress so far of the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act marks a welcome break with the usual, grim pattern. Not only did the Assembly pass the bill, this time there is a companion bill in the Senate which enjoys bipartisan support. Republican Sen. Volker’s sponsorship helps bring this issue above the partisan fray and lends momentum to this issue at a critical moment.

In a year that has already elicited record breaking participation rates, it is clear that the time is now to help all eligible voters learn their rights and register to vote.

--Jude Joffe-Block, Research Associate

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