The New York state legislature passed a bill on Wednesday that would automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of a felony once they are on parole.
The bill is intended to improve upon a 2018 executive order granting voting pardons to the 35,000 New Yorkers on parole, according to Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell, a co-sponsor of the bill. Currently, parolees must wait a period of four to six weeks to receive a pardon and then must register to vote on their own.
The legislation would restore voting rights at the time of release and would require Department of Corrections employees to provide parolees with a voter registration form.
Some Republican assembly members argued that a felon’s debt to society isn’t paid until they finish parole, but the bill was ultimately passed with a Democratic majority in both chambers of the legislature.
The bill will be sent to Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk, although there is no set timeline for when that will happen.
CNN has reached out to the governor’s office for details about whether he will sign the bill.
New York is among several Democratic-led states that are expanding voting rights and access to the ballot at a time when Republican lawmakers are seeking to impose new restrictions following former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.
“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 announcing the bill’s passing. “With the passage of this bill, we are one step closer to dismantling the vestiges of segregation-era felony disenfranchisement in New York. 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.”
O’Donnell, who previously was the chair for the assembly’s Standing Committee on Correction, told CNN that a version of this bill was originally drafted in 2005 and that he has been pushing for it ever since.
“Someone who is successfully on parole, they are living a law-abiding life,” he said. “Why can’t they participate?”
The Brennan Center for Justice, which is deeply involved in voting rights issues across the nation, also lauded the legislature for its work.
“By passing this bill, the state assembly has sent a clear message: if you live in the community, you should be able to vote,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center.
“Disenfranchising people on parole is a vestige of Jim Crow and because of the racial disparities plaguing New York State’s criminal justice system, it has had an enormous impact on Black and Latino New Yorkers. We look forward to the governor putting an end to it by signing this bill into law,” he continued.
Earlier this month, Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation that will automatically restore the voting rights of more than 20,000 people convicted of a felony once they’re released from prison, even if they are remain under community supervision.
“While other states are restricting the right to vote, I’m glad that in Washington, we are expanding access to democracy,” Inslee said on April 7 in remarks before signing the bill.
And in March, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, took executive action to immediately restore former felons’ voting rights as soon as they complete their prison terms, a move that will immediately apply to more than 69,000 formerly incarcerated Virginians.