Voting Rights

Each year the Western Regional Office and its allies establish a voting rights hotline at 716-332-4658.

The hotline provides information on all aspects of voting, such as helping people to register or answering questions that arise at the polling places. Our staff, attorneys and volunteers man the hotline until one hour after polls close in Western New York.

If you would like to assist with the hotline, please contact us at 716-852-4033 or via e-mail at westernregion@nyclu.org.
 

Education Campaign on the Voting Rights of People with Criminal Records

September 10, 2008 -- As the presidential election approaches, the New York Civil Liberties Union has launched an intensive campaign in the Buffalo area and around the state to help New Yorkers with criminal records reclaim their right to vote.

The campaign, which runs through the voter registration deadline on Friday, Oct. 10, features bus advertisements in New York City, train advertisements in Buffalo and Western New York, public service announcements to be broadcast on radio stations throughout the state, and a new web page -- www.nyclu.org/vote -- where visitors can access voting rights toolkits, posters and videos.

In Buffalo, advertisements have been placed on all metro rail trains. An audio PSA informing those with criminal records of their voting rights is being broadcast on local radio station “Fiesta Latina” (WBBF-AM 1120). The NYCLU’s Western Regional Office has established a voting rights hotline, 716-332-4658, to help people register to vote.

Voting rights ad on train

“There is a mistaken belief that those with criminal records permanently lose their right to vote. As a result, thousands of New Yorkers are either unnecessarily forfeiting their rights or being unlawfully denied their right to vote,” said John A. Curr III, director of the NYCLU’s Western Regional Office. “This campaign seeks to correct that mistake by educating both the public and county election officials that people who have completed felony sentences have the right to vote.”

In New York State, individuals who have been convicted of a felony cannot vote while incarcerated or on parole. The right to vote is restored once someone is released from prison or completes parole, though it is up to the voter to re-register with their county board of elections. No documentation or special forms are required to prove the completion of a sentence. Those sentenced to probation for a felony offense never lose the right to vote.

More than 100,000 people are convicted of felonies each year in New York State – in 2007 alone, a record 115,573 people were convicted of felony offenses. Nearly 62,300 of those who are convicted are currently on probation for felonies. An additional 12,100 people are released from parole each year.

A study conducted by the Sentencing Project shows that a majority of these people are under the mistaken belief that they are unable to vote, which means there are hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who incorrectly believe they are permanently disfranchised.

Many workers at county election boards are poorly informed about the voting rights of those with criminal records. A 2006 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 38 percent of employees at New York’s county election boards indicated they didn’t know whether probationers could vote. A study conducted before the 2004 election revealed that more than half of New York’s county election boards unlawfully required formerly incarcerated individuals to present documentation of their criminal status before they could register to vote.

“This is a matter of justice,” said Corinne Carey, NYCLU public policy counsel and voting rights campaign coordinator. “Voting provides people a voice – something stripped from them while in prison. The vote allows people to demonstrate their commitment to American democracy and helps them rejoin society.”

The campaign, partly paid for by a $15,000 grant from the Adco Foundation, educates the public about the voting rights of those with criminal records through a variety of media. Partnering with the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens Against Recidivism and The Fortune Society, the NYCLU sponsored advertisements on MTA buses in the Bronx, Brooklyn and Manhattan alerting people of their voting rights and directing them to the NYCLU’s voter enfranchisement web page: www.nyclu.org/vote. The NYCLU ran similar ads in Buffalo and Western New York.

By visiting www.nyclu.org/vote, people can download voter registration forms; access a toolkit of information on voting rights; listen to a public service announcement on registering to vote; and download posters to help spread the message.

Visitors to the web page also can watch a series of videos chronicling a Brooklyn woman’s effort to reclaim her right to vote. Maria Perez, who completed parole in 2000, was unlawfully denied the right to vote in the 2004 presidential election. The videos follow her as she visits her local election board and registers to vote and as she receives the election board’s decision on her voting status. A third video will follow her to the polls on Election Day as she casts her first vote in a decade.