Barclay: The latest in the Year of the Criminal

PULASKI, NY —  In New York, convicted felons are not allowed to vote until their sentence has been served.  Voting rights are automatically restored after the sentence is completed.  Whether the conviction is for homicide, rape, assault, or grand larceny, the conventional thought is that because the criminal broke the social contract that all citizens have with their community, they should lose their right to vote.  However, in light of the shift of political power in the state, under the guise of social justice there is now a renewed push to provide incarcerated felons the right to vote.

Last month a bill was introduced that, if passed and signed by the Governor, would allow convicted felons in both county jails and state prisons to vote via absentee ballot.  In addition, the bill proposes to establish an inmate voter registration program, provide access and assistance with voter registration forms, and a mechanism for voting, including but not limited to, absentee ballots.

This legislative push to provide voting rights to criminals is on par with actions taken by the Governor.  As some may recall, in May 2018, the Governor issued 24,000 conditional voting pardons for convicted felons who were on parole.  Traditionally, restoring voting privileges for parolees was considered on a case by case basis.  However, Governor Cuomo, without legislative input, has broadly restored the right to vote for parolees through the use of pardons.  In the past year and a half, the Governor has periodically conditionally pardoned large numbers of parolees at once in order to allow them to vote and ensured that each are provided voter registration forms.  At last count in August, more than 44,000 parolees have been conditionally pardoned to vote.

As if providing conditional pardons to all parolees and proposing to allow incarcerated felons to vote isn’t enough, last year a bill was introduced that would allow inmates, 55 years of age or older and who have served at least 15 years of their prison sentence, to be automatically eligible for early release on parole.  The early release would come, according to this bill, even if the inmate has not served the minimum sentence imposed and regardless of the crime they have committed.  This bill, dubbed Elder Parole Bill, did not move in either house but there is little doubt that there will be a renewed effort to enact it during this upcoming legislative session.

Previous columns that attempt to explain more on this trend to protect criminals can be found at “The Year of the Criminal” https://assembly.state.ny.us/mem/William-A-Barclay/story/87422 and “Unprecedented Pardons” https://nyassembly.gov/mem/William-A-Barclay/story/82866. Ultimately, with any criminal justice reform there needs to be acknowledgment of the victims of the crime, protection of the public, and then lastly help for the criminal. Sadly, too many of the criminal justice reforms that continue to be introduced and enacted solely focus on expanding criminal rights.  If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@nyassembly.gov or by calling (315) 598-5185.  You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.