Public Defender Lauds Cuomo Giving Parolees Right To Vote

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order restoring the rights of parolees to vote was welcome news for the Chautauqua County public defender.

Ned Barone said Cuomo’s executive order announced Wednesday could become the first step in reducing recidivism for the 35,000 New Yorkers who have served time for felonies. The public defender said one way to get former inmates back into society is by restoring some of their rights as citizens.

He said granting parolees the right to vote should be the first of many steps in creating “equal justice.”

“This is something that we’ve been trying to do for awhile,” Barone said. “One of the ways to reduce recidivism and get these people back into society once they have done their time is to allow them to vote. … This is good for everybody.”

Barone said he was contacted by the governor’s office shortly before the executive order was signed. According to the Associated Press, the move will add New York to a list of more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia that give convicted felons the right to vote once they have completed their prison sentences.

Cuomo said prohibiting the right to vote to parolees disproportionately impacts minorities, noting that nearly three-fourths of those currently on parole in New York are black or Latino. He said giving people back the right to vote can be one way of helping them re-establish ties to their communities as law-abiding citizens.

“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.”

Barone said he has talked to clients who were unaware they were in jeopardy of losing their voting rights. In New York, convicted felons cannot vote unless they are on probation or have completed parole.

“Some of them tell me they never realized what a great freedom it is to cast a vote,” Barone said.

“I admire Cuomo.” Barone continued. “He’s run into some resistance, which is unfortunate. It has become a political issue. You have to go beyond politics in order to create equal justice.”

“I think this is progress,” he continued. “It’s a step — a baby step — but a step in the right direction.”

Cuomo will reportedly direct state corrections officials to review a list of former inmates now subject to parole supervision. Those officials will have the discretion to prevent certain offenders from regaining their rights.

However, not everyone is lauding the governor. News of the executive order was met with immediate backlash from state Republicans, who said the move was bad public policy and potentially illegal, since Cuomo chose to circumvent the legislature.

State GOP Chairman Ed Cox called the order “liberal lunacy,” while Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said he believes the move was illegal since it circumvented lawmakers.

“I’m dumfounded,” Flanagan told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday. “It’s bad public policy, it circumvents the law. It basically says there’s no need for a Legislature whatsoever. … This will allow rapists and murderers to be given voting privileges that they don’t deserve.”

Barone said he hopes discussion on Cuomo’s decision can be kept in the arena of criminal justice reform and not party politics. Cuomo is facing a primary challenge from former actress Cynthia Nixon in his bid for re-election.

“I don’t have the luxury of being political,” Barone said. “We’ve got to deal with reality and deal with them on a day-to-day basis. It goes way beyond politics.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.