York’s local boards of election are still struggling with
rules on voting rights for probationers, ex-felons
New York state, people who are on probation or incarcerated
for a misdemeanor don’t lose their right to vote. And people
who have completed their full sentence, including parole,
for a felony conviction regain that right.
The law is clear on this front. The State Board of Elections
clarified it further with a 2003 memo reminding local boards
that people who have completed their sentences do not have
to prove their eligibility beyond the same sworn affidavit
all voters have to provide [“Removing Voting Roadblocks,”
FYI, Nov. 26, 2003].
But when the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of
Law, Demos and the Legal Action Center conducted a study last
year of local boards of elections, they found that despite
the 2003 memo, more than a third of New York’s counties are
still disenfranchising people involved in the criminal justice
system who are eligible to vote. Study takers called boards
of elections and spoke with whoever answered the phone, as
people looking to register to vote would do.
According to the study, Albany County looks to be one of the
counties lagging furthest behind. Respondents from the county
said that they believed probationers were not eligible to
vote, that they were not aware of the 2003 state memo, and
that they not only required documentation from people with
felony convictions, but required forms of documentation that
the groups conducting the study say do not exist.
However, the Albany County Republican elections commissioner,
John Graziano, said none of those responses was representative
of the county’s policy. “If [a person] has gone in and been
incarcerated and they are released they just have to reregister.
That’s my understanding of how we handle it, and that’s how
we should be handling it,” he said. Graziano said no documentation
was required of people to show that they had completed their
full sentence or parole, and that people on probation did
not have their voting eligibility affected or questioned in
It’s great that the commissioners understand the law, responded
Norden, but “unless he’s answering the phones himself, that
doesn’t help people much.”
Norden doesn’t think the incorrect responses given by local
boards represent willful disregard for the law. “In most cases
it’s just confusion about what the law is,” he said. The state
board did little follow-up to its 2003 memo, he noted, and
the local boards, which can be overwhelmed with various regulations,
need to know the state board is serious about this issue.
To that end, the report makes several recommendations for
the state board. They include: codifying the 2003 memo into
a regulation; informing all individuals with criminal records
who were registered to vote prior to their convictions of
their rights and providing them with a registration form;
providing in-person training and materials to each individual
local board; initiating a public communications campaign and
establishing a telephone complaint helpline.
Norden said the state board, which was sent a copy of the
report on Feb. 23, has not committed to implementing any of
the recommendations. Lee Daghlian of the state board said
he had not seen the report, but that enforcement would improve
with the implementation of a statewide voter registration
database required by the Help America Vote Act, which should
be complete within a year.
At the moment, a “code 4” ineligibility note is put on the
record of anyone who receives a felony conviction, but there
is no system in place to remove it when their sentence is
completed. It is seeing this code that generally spurs local
boards to demand documentation, noted Martin, even though
a signed affidavit is all they are legally allowed to ask
for. Daghlian said with the new database the code 4 notes
will be systematically removed at the proper time.
As for the study’s other recommendations, Daghlian said, “All
of that stuff will be reivewed by this board. Any recommendations
that we feel are necessary will be done. I don’t know if we’ll
do any more for any given group than we would for anyone who’s
eligible to vote.”
In addition to recommendations for the state board, the groups
that conducted the report are calling for support of the Voting
Rights Notification and Registration Act, sponsored in the
Assembly by Keith Wright (D-Manhattan). Although there are
10 different bills in the Legislature addressing pieces of
the issue, Glenn Martin of the Legal Action Center says Wright’s
bill is the most comprehensive in terms of notification and
registration procedures, without the politically more ambitious
move of calling for reenfranchisement for parolees.
Martin says because it doesn’t expand voting rights and just
tries to ensure existing ones, he’s hopeful Wright’s bill
will garner support from the Senate, though he still expects
passing it will be a multiyear process.
Wright’s bill would establish county probation agencies and
local correctional facilities as voter-registration agencies,
allowing them to inform clients of their right to vote, register
them, and provide absentee ballots as warranted. It would
also provide that people who have completed their terms be
informed of their eligibility and offered registration and
that people accepting a guilty plea or being convicted have
the effect on their voting rights explained at that time.
The bill also would require the systematic removal of the
code 4 notations at the end of a person’s sentence.
Encouraging probationers and ex-offenders to vote is important,
said Martin, because it “helps to facilitate successful reentry.
It gives people a sense of belonging to the community.”
Not Just for Radicals Anymore
William Goodman, legal director of the Center
for Constitutional Rights, is not usually the
sort to get invited on conservative TV talk shows.
But he took the plunge for a March 8 debate on
impeaching George Bush on the MSNBC show of Joe
Scarborough, a former Republican congressman.
Goodman, writing for Alternet, noted that Scarborough
even admitted that the case for impeachment was
intellectually honest. Though plenty of activists
remain frustrated about the slow pace of Democratic
support for impeachment, others say the idea is
really moving mainstream quite rapidly.
More Proof We Don’t Know Everything
Just south of Easter Island, 7,540 feet deep in
the ocean, French divers have discovered an animal
so different from anything else that it merited
a new family, Kiwaidae. The approximately 6-inch-long
blind crustacean, called “Kiwa hirsuta,” resembles
a lobster, only its pincers are covered with “sinuous,
hair-like strands.” Kiwada is the crustacean goddess
in Polynesian mythology. Hirsute means, well,
In a Galaxy Far, Far Away . . .
According to The Boston Globe, the Pentagon
is asking Congress for hundreds of millions of
dollars to test weapons in space. The weapons
listed on the budget proposal include ground-fired
lasers that could take out enemy satellites, spacecrafts
that would travel 20 times the speed of sound
while firing weapons, and satellites that could
launch missiles. The Pentagon says the investment
is worthwhile because it has civilian applications.
Nothing in Common?
Jay Bennish, a social studies teacher from Aurora,
Colo., has been suspended without pay for comparing
the rhetoric of George Bush to that of Adolf Hitler.
The school district is currently reviewing whether
Bennish’s comments violated a policy requiring
balanced viewpoints in the classroom. On a tape
made by a student of one of Bennish’s lectures,
he says Bush’s speech “sounds a lot like the things
that Adolf Hitler used to say: ‘We’re the only
ones who are right, everyone else is backwards
and our job is to conquer the world and make sure
that they all live just like we want them to.’
Years and Counting
reading “Support our troops, bring them home now!” went up
all over the area yesterday morning (plus some a few days
early) to commemorate the third anniversary of the start of
the war in Iraq. Organized by Women Against War and supported
by a bevy of local peace organizations, the Sign-On for Peace
Campaign distributed 1,100 signs in the two weeks leading
up to the anniversary. Organizers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
activists fit Hillary into their schedule because she won’t
fit them into hers
Friday, Sen. Hillary Clinton arrived at the University at
Albany campus to deliver a speech at a conference on tech
jobs. When the conference was finished, Clinton had a pack
of press awaiting her every word, and she took advantage of
it by tearing into the policies of President George W. Bush.
On her way into the conference, however, Clinton was faced
with a group not waiting to listen, but waiting to speak.
Rather than listening to the group of antiwar activists who
were organized by Peace Action, Clinton did what she has done
over and over again: ignored them. According to local activist
Jean Finley, antiwar activists around the state have grown
accustomed to being ignored by their junior senator [“Calling
Clinton,” Newsfront, June 9, 2005]. Said Finley, “She will
not meet with any social justice or peace group anywhere in
It’s not something they are taking lying down. Maureen Aumand,
from Women Against War, said being brushed off again and again
by Clinton is “feeding this absolute commitment to be wherever
she is. To say, ‘You just have refused to be responsive to
the citizenry.’ ”
To carry out this commitment, Finley has started the Noble
Cause Action listserv, named after Cindy Sheehan’s unanswered
question to President Bush: “For what noble cause did my son
die?” Finley’s listserv keeps local activists up to date on
Clinton’s latest public appearances so that they can get the
senator’s attention. People interested in joining the list
can e-mail noblecauseaction- email@example.com.
According to Finley, the listserv has given birth to a “rapid
response team” of people willing to protest Clinton whenever
she is in their area.
Clinton voted in favor of the authorization to go to war in
Iraq, and though she has since criticized Bush’s handling
of the war, she has not expressed any change of opinion on
whether the war was justified in the first place.
Keeping up with Clinton’s appearances is not as easy as it
sounds. “We have one contact who needs to remain nameless
who is very good,” explained Finley. “There is also a Web
site called www.justhillary.com, but our contact is our main
Finley and other local activists make it clear that talking
to Clinton is not their main cause, just a means to an end.
Said Finley, “We are first and foremost activists against
Something bad happened there.”
—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion
of haunted houses.
Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting
Alice Green, in response to a question about how
Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate
in a debate.
loose ends this week