January 11, 2021
For Immediate Release
January 8, 2021
Contact: Nick Encalada-Malinowski 347-259-4835 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Democracy Reform in New York State Incomplete Without Addressing Felony Disenfranchisement
Albany, NY – Today, the New York State Senate will meet for the first Elections Committee agenda of the new legislative session. The agenda includes legislative proposals that mostly address challenges experienced with absentee voting. The agenda, however, does not include any provisions to expand access to the ballot, even as Jim Crow-era felony disenfranchisement laws remain on the books.
In the past week we saw both the best of democracy — massive voter turnout, particularly among Black Americans, overcoming voter suppression tactics to drive historic U.S. Senate wins in the deep south — and the worst of democracy — as white supremacists ran rough-shod through the Capitol building, virtually unimpeded by law enforcement, leaving 5 people dead.
The New York State legislature should be responding with urgency to the historic events of the past week by taking a principled approach to ending disenfranchisement for all people in New York State, starting with the immediate passage of S830.
The legislation, S830 (Comrie), would automatically restore voting rights to all New Yorkers upon release from prison, eliminating the need for a conditional voting rights pardon from the Governor.
For the third consecutive year the Democratic-led Elections Committee has prioritized democracy reform, at the beginning of session, while passing over this particular bill. We hope for a public commitment from Senate Leadership and the Elections Committee to passing S830 at the next Elections Committee meeting.
“It is imperative that full restoration of voting rights be made a priority in New York in order to achieve a true and inclusive democracy. Anything short of that, panders to centuries of racist efforts to silence and marginalize Black, Brown and poor people. It is past time for New York to emerge as a leader in democracy, justice and equity,” said Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice.
“Voting rights should be automatically restored to returning citizens. The longstanding punishment beyond incarceration that so many mothers and women across Long Island face is unjust and must end,” said Serena Liguori, executive director of New Hour for Women and Children LI.
“The state of New York has done a lot to strengthen its democracy over the past few years, but a true democracy is inclusive, and we’re not there yet,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, Deputy Director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The state legislature needs to restore voting rights to everyone living in the community and send a message that – even as we improve our elections – we are not leaving people behind.”
“People returning from incarceration who have proven their readiness to reintegrate into their community and society should be granted full restorativeness. One of the most important of those rights is the right to participate in the civic process. Senate Bill 830 will grant these rights to people returning from incarceration. Our legislators in both houses are now considered a “super majority” but this means nothing unless they use this for the benefit of the people,” said Victor Pate, Chairman NYC National Action Network Chapter Second Chance Committee.
“New York must guarantee the right to vote for all New Yorkers and end Jim Crow era laws designed to suppress the political power of Black communities,” said Rowland Davis, member of Center for Community Alternatives. “It is unconscionable in 2021 for New York State’s Senate to not immediately take up S.830 as a first step towards ensuring all New Yorkers can access the ballot box.”
“No one should be denied the right to vote. Felony disenfranchisement is an extension of the exclusion of slaves from the political process. By design, it intentionally shuts Black and Brown communities out of our most sacred and fundamental democratic responsibilities. We applaud Senator Comrie for fighting to restore and to expand education on the right to vote for people on parole in New York State. However, this is only a first step. There will be no justice until every person is able to participate in our democracy,” Ivelisse Gilestra, College & Community Fellowship Community Organizer.
“While we support quick action on these important absentee reforms, the legislature must also immediately address the remnants of this state’s Jim Crow past and expand the franchise to those who have unjustly lost the right to vote, beginning with reinstating that right for people on parole,” said Rachel Landy, co-chair of the Legislative Affairs Committee of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council.
“We have seen again and again how our criminal legal system was intentionally built to disenfranchise and exclude Black and Latinx people,” said Alison Wilkey, Director of Public Policy at the John Jay College Institute for Justice and Opportunity. “To begin to undo these harms, the Legislature must immediately act to permanently restore the voting rights of people upon release from prison.”
“It’s been almost 3 years since the Governor issued his executive order, yet potential voters, parole officers, and election officials are still confused over whether people released from incarceration can vote. People who could and do want to vote are either not given any guidance from government officials or given misleading advice and must rely on grassroots groups like ours to provide accurate information and help them vote. It’s way past time for NYS to legislatively end this disenfranchisement and we look forward to the passage of S830 early in the session,” said Jan Combopiano, Senior Policy Director and member, Executive Committee, Brooklyn Voters Alliance.
“In this critical moment, we should be making every effort in New York State to expand our democracy. By excluding the Comrie bill, we continue to send the message that this democracy does not serve all of us. Further, by restricting the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, we also limit their ability to rebuild their lives and influence decisions that impact their lives and their communities,” said Kellie Leeson, Co-Lead Organizer Empire State Indivisible.
“While we applaud the Senate Majority for moving to expand voter access by modernizing New York’s antiquated absentee ballot laws, it is critically important at this fragile time for American democracy that returning citizens not be left behind. 2021 must be the year that our policymakers begin a frank conversation acknowledging the legacy of Jim-Crow Era disenfranchisement laws and the impact of mass incarceration policy on voting rights in our communities. A bright-line rule of voting rights restoration upon release from prison is the obvious place to start and should not be further delayed,” said Jarret Berg, Co-Founder of VoteEarlyNY.
“We cannot say that we promote democracy or believe that voting is important while at the same time legally disenfranchising entire groups of people. Felony disenfranchisement in New York State, and elsewhere, threatens the legitimacy of any government that claims to espouse progressive, democratic principles,” said Nick Encalada-Malinowski, Civil Rights Campaign Director, VOCAL-NY.
“If the purpose of prisons is to provide behavioral rehabilitation for people who have been convicted of antisocial acts, then denying former prisoners voting rights, jobs, acceptance, is denying them a return to society, forever, in violation of this intent,” said Michael Quackenbush, co-founder of Dutchess County Progressive Action Alliance.
“Voter disenfranchisement is one of the ugliest remaining vestiges of Jim Crowe Era laws designed to strip Black communities of political power,” said Jared Trujillo, President of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys. “The right to vote is vital to realize full citizenship. New York must lead, and extend this fundamental right to all people leaving prison.”
“We urge the legislature to consider and pass this crucial legislation, which would restore the vote to all individuals on release from prison. Felony disenfranchisement laws have deep and racist roots in 19th century efforts to deny the vote to African Americans. The time to end this practice is long overdue,” said Jeff Maclin, Vice President for Governmental and Public Relations at the Community Service Society of New York.