New York state is granting voting rights to convicted felons who are currently out on parole.
The move would allow approximately 35,000 people to go to the ballots this coming November as well as those who enter the parole system before voter registration closes. Governor Andrew Cuomo has sidestepped the State Senate, where the Republican majority has opposed the measure of granting pardons for voting purposes.
Some have said the move is purely political given Mr Cuomo is running for re-election. His most competitive opposition for the Democratic nomination is former Sex and the City star and lifelong New York City resident Cynthia Nixon.
Ms Nixon is seen as more liberal than Mr Cuomo, forcing him to adopt less-centrist policies according to experts. The governor made the announcement at the National Action Network, a group led by political pundit and activist Reverend Al Sharpton.
However, Mr Cuomo’s announcement does not change state law – convicted felons still cannot vote unless they are on probation or have completed parole. During the event Mr Cuomo said: “I’m unwilling to take no for an answer…I’m going to make it law by executive order. With active intervention, we can bend the arc toward justice”.
The governor’s counsel Alphonso David told the New York Times that Mr Cuomo would require the “commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to submit a list of every felon currently on parole, as well as a list of those newly eligible for parole, beginning” 1 May, the newspaper reported. A draft of Mr Cuomo’s executive order said the list would be updated monthly as new parolees entered the programme and each one would be “given the consideration of a pardon that will restore voting rights without undue delay”.
Mr David said any parolee is eligible for the pardon, barring certain police concerns. The voting pardon would not expunge the ex-convict’s criminal record or allow the person to serve on a jury, however.
Currently, 18 other US states plus Washington DC allow parolees to cast ballots – Iowa and Virginia follow the model of having executive orders in place while the others have an automatic restoration of voting rights or do not require people to give them up in the first place.
Mr Cuomo has attempted to introduce criminal justice-related legislation while in office, the latest was a bid to end the cash bail system for lower level offences in order to balance the disproportionate impact on minority populations. Ms Nixon has also made such measures central to her campaign platform.
Her most visible issue at the moment is the legalisation of marijuana, following states like Colorado and Washington, since black and Latino New Yorkers have been jailed for those drug offences in much higher rates than white offenders.
Mr Cuomo still leads in polling, but just one day before the felon voting announcement a poll showed the actress closing in on the political legacy whose father was also governor of New York.