Executive order to give parolees right to vote spurs mixed reaction

An executive order signed recently by Gov. Andrew Cuomo granting parolees the ability to vote has support from the Chautauqua County Public Defender’s Office. However, those tasked with drafting and passing legislation in Albany say the move is motivated by politics, not personal freedoms.

State Assemblyman Andy Goodell said legislation that would have given parolees the right to vote was introduced in 2016 yet failed to find support from lawmakers. This alone, Goodell noted, meant the state Legislature had no intention of broadening voting rights to convicted felons.

“This legislation is still out there because the legislature didn’t support it,” Goodell said. “The governor issuing an executive order means he’s claiming he has the authorization to circumvent the legislature to grant voting rights to 35,000 convicted felons.”

State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean, said Cuomo’s executive order pardoning “hardened, convicted criminals on parole just so they can vote is wrong on many levels.” Young was one of many Senate Republicans to rebuke the governor’s decision, and noted that some felons, including Terry Losicco, a soon-to-be-parolee who “savagely murdered a beloved Westchester grandmother,”could be allowed to vote.

“(Cuomo’s) actions exceed his authority by circumventing the legislative process,” Young said.

Prior to Cuomo’s executive order, only those on probation or who have completed their sentences could vote after a felony conviction. The governor said prohibiting the right to vote to parolees disproportionately impacts minorities, noting that three-fourths of those currently on parole are black or Latino.

With the signing, New York joins more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia giving felons the right to vote once they complete their prison sentence. The executive order will require the commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to list all felons on parole beginning in May. According to the New York Times, after a review, those deemed eligible will be given a conditional pardon granting them the right to vote in elections.

The pardon does expunge a felon’s record.

Young, however, noted that there is a “huge debate raging” regarding the state parole board after it voted to free Herman Bell, a convicted cop killer. “Thousands of violent felons just like these killers, from across the state, will be given the same privilege,” Young said. “It is a terrible decision and it needs to be reversed.”

Goodell, too, said Cuomo’s move far exceeds his powers as governor and questioned the timing as a primary election looms.

“Never in the history of the New York State Legislature have we seen these kinds of automatic pardons for … convicted felons, nor have we ever seen partial pardons like this. The governor has used carte blanche to relieve 35,000 convicted felons without a thorough comprehensive review of each case. In my opinion, it’s a gross abuse of power.”

One supporter of Cuomo’s executive order is Chautauqua County Public Defender Ned Barone, who said he has long sought to have more voting rights restored to those convicted of crimes. He said granting parolees the right to vote once released from prison is the first step in creating “equal justice.”

“This is something that we’ve been trying to do for awhile,” Barone said this week. “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.”

Goodell said those on parole have not legally finished their sentences. The assemblyman also noted that the governor’s poll numbers among “law-abiding citizens have been dropping.”

“This may be one way, unfortunately, that he’s trying to increase people who may be interested in voting for him,” said Goodell, who also questioned whether granting voting powers will reduce recidivism. “I’m not sure it’s going to make much of a difference.”