Amid a wave of GOP attacks on voting rights in legislatures across the United States, activists applauded the Democrat-controlled New York State Assembly on Wednesday for passing a bill to end the disenfranchisement of New Yorkers on parole and called on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to swiftly sign the measure into law.
"Outdated, racist voter suppression laws that disenfranchise the formerly incarcerated have no place in New York. No one should be excluded from our democracy because of Jim Crow-relic voting laws or as a result of our deeply broken criminal justice system," said the progressive advocacy group Stand Up America in a statement.
"We applaud the activists who brought attention to this injustice and the state lawmakers who voted for this critical bill," the group added, thanking state Sens. Leroy Comrie (D-14) and Zellnor Myrie (D-20) as well as Reps. Daniel O'Donnell (D-69) and Latrice Walker (D-55) "for championing this bill through both chambers."
Stand Up America joined with Alliance of Families for Justice, the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, Brooklyn Voter Alliance, Citizen Action of New York, Parole Preparation Project, VOCAL-NY, and other organizations to advocate for the bill.
Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program, said in a statement that "by passing this bill, the state Assembly has sent a clear message: If you live in the community, you should be able to vote."
"For decades, New York law has denied tens of thousands of New Yorkers living, working, and paying taxes in their communities the right to vote only because they are on parole. That's wrong," he said. "They should be able to participate in democracy and the decisions that affect their lives."
Morales-Doyle noted that "because of the racial disparities plaguing New York state's criminal justice system, the prohibition on voting for people on parole has had an enormous impact on Black and Latino New Yorkers, who make up nearly three-quarters of the people on parole in New York state."
SCROLL TO CONTINUE WITH CONTENT
Never Miss a Beat.
Get our best delivered to your inbox.
"Disenfranchising people on parole is a vestige of Jim Crow," he declared. "We look forward to the governor putting an end to it by signing S. 830 into law."
The state Assembly's vote came after the Senate passed A. 4448/S. 830 in February. Highlighting how long this fight has dragged on, O'Donnell—former chair of the Assembly's Standing Committee on Correction—told CNN on Wednesday that the first version of the bill was drafted in 2005.
"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 in a statement.
"With the passage of this bill, we are one step closer to dismantling the vestiges of segregation-era felony disenfranchisement in New York," he continued. "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."
"Someone who is successfully on parole, they are living a law-abiding life," he added. "Why can't they participate?"
Though it's unclear if or when Cuomo will sign the bill, he did begin using his pardon power to restore voting rights to New York residents on parole in 2018. At the time, he said, "The right to vote is fundamental and it is unconscionable to deny that basic right of citizenship to New Yorkers who have paid their debt to society."
The progress on expanding voting rights in New York comes as GOP policymakers in several states including Georgia and Texas have proposed or passed legislation to restrict ballot box access. According to the Brennan Center, Republicans across 47 states this year have introduced at least 361 bills with restrictive voting provisions.