In an effort to expand voting rights, the New York City passed Bill 514 to expand voting rights to prisoners still in jail by a vote of 41 to 2. Bill 514, if it becomes law, would require the Department of Corrections to inform every prisoner released from a city jail of the status of their voting rights in New York State. Confused media coverage has left the public unaware of the state’s felon voting policies and many see this as a boost for New York City felon voting rights. Others however, disagree.
“An overwhelming number of individuals released from DOC custody have the right to vote, yet the majority are unaware of that right,” council member Rory Lancman said regarding the new bill. Lancman is the sponsor of the bill.
“We know that rebuilding societal ties reduces recidivism for justice-involved people and my legislation is another step we must take to re-enfranchise those communities,” councilman Lancman continued. There are many who support the argument that if more convicts get their voting rights and are encouraged to participate in democracy, they would be less likely to commit crimes again. Perhaps voting rights would motivate them to become contributing members of society.
A Partisan Divide
The only two members to vote against the bill were two Republicans from Staten Island: Steven Matteo and Joseph C. Borelli and the overwhelming number of council members who voted yes were Democrats. The partisan vote breakdown shouldn’t be a surprise. One can categorized the partisan battle as Democrats always being in favor of expanding voter rights at all costs including restoring rights to felons who have been imprisoned while Republicans favor stricter voting procedures including voter ID and stricter polling place supervision.
During the last few years, this is increasingly a major issue nationwide and New York is no exception. Anthony Posada of the Legal Aid Society, a group in New York that provides legal aid to poor, commented, “The city must do a better job at re-enfranchising individuals and provide them better access to voting. The Legal aid society applauds the Council for passing this important legislation, which is a good step to begin correcting this injustice.” The nation is watching.