New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) on Wednesday signed an executive order granting all parolees in his state the right to vote, taking unilateral action after the Republican-led Senate rejected a similar proposal.
“It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have paid their debt and have re-entered society,” Cuomo said in a statement. “This reform will reduce disenfranchisement and will help restore justice and fairness to our democratic process.”
About 35,000 people are on parole in New York state. According to Cuomo’s office, African Americans and Hispanics account for about 71 percent of that population.
Cuomo previewed his action during a speech Wednesday at the National Action Network’s annual conference in Manhattan, where he was introduced by its founder, the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“In this state, when you're released from prison and you're on parole, you still don't have the right to vote,” the governor said. “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.”
Cuomo, who is serving his second term as governor, also made the pledge on Twitter.
His action brings New York in line with 18 other states and the District, which allow parolees to vote, according to his office.
Cuomo, who has sought to make criminal justice reform a centerpiece of his tenure, is facing a primary challenge from the left from actress Cynthia Nixon.
In a statement Wednesday, Nixon called Cuomo’s action on parolees long overdue.
“For eight years, Cuomo governed like a Republican,” Nixon said. “Now he's scared of communities all across New York who want to replace him with a real Democrat. Voter suppression in New York should have ended eight years ago, from the rights of parolees to access to early voting and automatic registration.”
During Cuomo's two terms, New York has raised the age for criminal responsibility, required law enforcement to videotape custodial interrogations for serious offenses and closed 24 prisons and juvenile detention centers.