Advocates React To NY Law Reinstating Voting Rights For People On Parole

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BINGHAMTON, NY (WSKG) — Advocates in New York took a step forward in the fight for voting rights last week after a law reinstated the right for people on parole.

“This will just continue and boost the work that we’re doing,” said Phoebe Brown, a community activist working with Alliance of Families for Justice (AFJ). “And give us more work to do.”

AFJ is an advocacy organization for people who are incarcerated and their families. Brown explained the disenfranchisement of people incarcerated, disengages their families from voting.

“One thing we’ve found is people who have loved ones incarcerated tend not to vote,” Brown explained. “So how do we encourage them to vote? How do we begin to help them understand that their vote is impactful?”

She said now it will take a grassroots effort to get them involved in voting.

A woman holds a sign reading “Protest then Vote” during a police escorted funeral procession organized by the COOL Church to symbolize a day of mourning for those lives lost due to systemic racism, Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Hallandale Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), there are between 35,000 and 40,000 people on parole on average in the state. The number fluctuates as people are released from prison or parole.

The bill passed the state legislature last month. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law Wednesday, taking immediate effect.

It is essentially the same as an Executive Order signed by Cuomo in 2018.

“Even though there have been opportunities for people to vote since the Executive Order in 2018, a lot of the time, people on parole have not known if they’ve had the right to vote,” said Erika Lorshbough, Deputy Policy Director for the NYCLU.

Before this legislation, if someone submitted a voter registration under the assumption that they had the right to vote when they actually did not – it would be against the law. Lorshbough explained it would be considered a parole violation and send that person back into incarceration. Unwilling to take the chance, most people didn’t even bother to try to register.

Now, as soon as a person is released, they gain the right to vote. Brown said, for organizations like hers, the next step is to reinstate the right to vote for people currently incarcerated.

Community groups around the state are also advocating for the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York. According to Lorshbough, the bill’s goal is to clear a path to litigate and prosecute civil voting rights violations.