On June 21, the entire New York State Assembly took a significant step toward reducing barriers to civic participation by passing the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act (VRNRA), a bill that would notify individuals with felony convictions of their voting rights, facilitate voter registration, and improve communication between corrections and elections officials. As mentioned here and here , recent studies have documented that both elections officials and the formerly incarcerated frequently don't know the voting rights of those involved in the criminal justice system.

We would like to congratulate the Assembly and Committee on Election Law Chair Keith Wright for moving so quickly on this important piece of legislation and hope the Senate will do the same in next year’s session. The New York City and State Boards of Elections have also affirmed their dedication to voting rights in recent months, training local elections workers on proper eligibility requirements and providing accurate and clear information on felon voting rights to the public.

This move by the Assembly has taken place within the context of a larger national trend to eradicate archaic laws that strip those with felony convictions of their fundamental right to vote. Such laws directly contradict what we know about rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-offenders as well as the core American value that citizens should be able to choose their government representatives. We’re encouraged by the Assembly’s action as well as the recent improvements made by the New York State and City Boards of Elections. However, many barriers to participation still remain. In 2004, 122,018 New Yorkers were disfranchised because of a felony conviction, not including the thousands of additional eligible voters who were potentially mislead by elections workers into believing they were ineligible to vote. The Assembly’s passage of the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act is an important step. We hope the entire legislature will pass this bill into law in the next session and strongly consider restoring voting rights to all New York citizens. An open and democratic New York deserves no less.

Scott Novakowski
Policy Analyst, Democracy Program
Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action

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