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Governor Andrew Cuomo to Grant Voting Rights to Paroled Felons in New York

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the restoration of voting rights to tens of thousands of paroled felons — an obvious and desperate attempt to win some Democratic votes in the coming elections.

Cuomo signed an executive order to restore the rights.

By the numbers, it’s about 35,000 felons who were affected. Specificially, his order gives conditional pardons to those who’ve completed their jail sentences but who are still on parole.

Democrat & Chronicle has more:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed Wednesday to grant voting rights to tens of thousands of paroled felons, arguing that they’ve paid their debt to society and should have the ability to cast a ballot. …

Th[e] pardons would restore the parolees’ ability to vote.

Cuomo unveiled the executive order during a speech at the National Action Network’s annual conference Wednesday in Manhattan.

“In this state, when you’re released from prison and you’re on parole, you still don’t have the right to vote,” Cuomo, who is seeking re-election this year, said at the conference.

“Now how can that be? You did your time. You paid your debt. You’re released, but you still don’t have a right to vote.”

The measure drew praise from liberal groups, but criticism from Republicans and conservatives.

As of Nov. 1, there were 36,138 under parole supervision in New York, with 54 percent living in New York City, according to the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

Cuomo’s order would affect about 35,000 of those parolees, according to the Governor’s Office.

Prior to Cuomo’s order, those convicted of a felony and sentenced to incarceration were unable to vote in New York until completing their prison sentence and parole.

Those on probation do not lose their right to vote. And those serving a prison sentence for a misdemeanor can vote via absentee ballot.

Across the country, voting laws vary widely when it comes to the incarcerated.

New York had been one of four states to allow those on probation to vote but block parolees, according to Nonprofit VOTE, an organization dedicated to promoting voter participation.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia restore voting rights when a felon is released from prison, while 22 states do not allow felons to vote until they’ve completed their prison sentence, parole and/or probation.

Maine and Vermont do not strip felons of their right to vote, while it depends on the type of conviction or an individual petition to the government for felons in the remaining nine states.

Cuomo’s executive order relies on his constitutional power to grant pardons to those convicted of crimes other than treason.

State election law prohibits paroled felons from voting until they’ve completed their maximum sentence or been discharged from parole — unless the governor grants a pardon.

Cuomo’s order requires the state prison system to provide his office with a current list of all paroled felons. From there, his office will review the list and determine who will get a pardon to restore voting rights.

The list will be updated every month, according to the order.

The conditional pardons relate only to voting rights.

Cuomo’s order explicitly says it would not waive any unpaid fines or grant felons the ability to purchase a firearm or seal their criminal record.

Cuomo’s order received plaudits from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which frequently pushes for expanded voting rights.

Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director, called it an “important step to strengthen our democracy.

“Restoring voting rights of people on parole is crucial to encouraging civic participation, making our political process more inclusive, and ensuring that formerly incarcerated people return to their communities successfully,” she said in a statement.

The order is likely to anger Republicans in the Senate, who Cuomo claimed have stood in the way of efforts to approve the change legislatively.

In his speech, Cuomo said he had proposed legislation to allow parolees to vote, though he’s never released such a bill publicly.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County, said Cuomo had never brought the issue up during recently completed budget negotiations.

But Flanagan did say Republicans would have strenuously opposed it. He questioned whether it’s legal and accused Cuomo of running an end-around on the Legislature.

“This will give rapists and murderers voting privileges that they shouldn’t have and they don’t deserve,” Flanagan told reporters.

Mike Long, the chairman of the state Conservative Party, ripped Cuomo’s plan and said he believes it is illegal.

Long contended that the Democratic governor is clearly announcing initiatives to go to the left of Cynthia Nixon, his liberal primary challenger.

“I think what he is doing is unconstitutional, number one,” Long said. “Number two, I think he’s pandering to the extreme left-wing elements of our nation.”

Long added, “If he’s going do that, then why not pass an executive order to allow anyone who lives in the state of New York and those visiting the state of New York to vote in the election.”

Nixon, the Sex and the City star who is challenging Cuomo in a Democratic primary, said Cuomo should have made the change years ago.

“We don’t buy the governor’s new song-and-dance routine,” Nixon said.

“Voter suppression in New York should have ended eight years ago, from the rights of parolees to access to early voting and automatic registration.”

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