BY TRONE DOWD
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order on Wednesday that would restore the right to vote to parolees who have served their time.
Cuomo made his announcement at the National Action Network Conference in Times Square, alongside some of the organization’s biggest names, including former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Rev. Al Sharpton.
“It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have paid their debt and have re-entered society,” Cuomo said. “This reform will reduce disenfranchisement and will help restore justice and fairness to our democratic process. Withholding or delaying voting rights diminishes our democracy.”
As explained by Cuomo, the restriction on parolees’ right to vote has a disproportionate impact on voters of color, specifically in black and Latino communities. Approximately 71 percent of the parolee population—about 35,000 individuals—is made up of African Americans and Latinos. Cuomo noted that, as a result, a significant percentage of those communities has been unable to choose who represents them in government. The governor also stated that civic engagement has been linked to reduced recidivism.
The announcement was made as the governor’s road to reelection begins to heat up. The executive order is one of Cuomo’s more progressive moves since his State of the State address in January.
U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) did not shy away from his support of the governor’s decision.
“One of the most sacred rights in any democracy is the right to vote,” Crowley said. “And yet, access to the ballot box remains out of reach for far too many New Yorkers who have served their time. Gov. Cuomo’s executive order is a historic step forward for both the expansion of voting rights and the movement to reform our criminal justice system.”
While the decision was met with praise from the left, some questioned Cuomo’s motive for enacting such a law seven years into his governorship. Many believe that pressure from his primary opponent, actress Cynthia Nixon—who has recently gained some traction in polls—forced Cuomo’s hand. Nixon pointed this out in a statement released by her campaign just hours after the governor’s announcement.
“For eight years, Cuomo governed like a Republican—handing control of our state to his ultra-rich donors and the party of [President Donald] Trump,” Nixon said. “Now he’s scared of communities all across New York who want to replace him with a real Democrat. We don’t buy the governor’s new song-and-dance routine. Voter suppression in New York should have ended eight years ago, from the rights of parolees to access to early voting and automatic registration.”
Nixon also said she believed that the governor’s change of heart on a number of issues facing New Yorkers—including his opposition to labor unions and medical marijuana, his handling of the MTA infrastructure crisis and NYCHA housing and his indifference to the Independent Democratic Conference—is in response to her jumping into this year’s primary.