Governor Kathy Hochul recently signed a package of voter laws in New York, including provisions that benefit formerly incarcerated individuals. These new laws aim to expand access to voting rights for formerly incarcerated New Yorkers, contributing to a more inclusive and equitable electoral system.

League Releases Qualitative Study of Access Across the State

The New York State League of Women Voters recently conducted a survey of the ability of those incarcerated in county jails to exercise their right to vote. The results were quite disturbing, as only 11 of the state’s 57 counties outside of New York City, which are the counties that were surveyed, had meaningful and effective programs. 

Under New York law, individuals detained in jail are entitled to vote unless they have been convicted of a felony. Yet, the survey revealed that few counties make a serious attempt to enable those within their facilities to exercise this right. Most county sheriffs, who administer the jails, and their staffs do little to encourage participation in the electoral process. Of the 45 counties that responded to the survey, 16 had no voting program whatsoever, while 18 took only minimal steps toward encouraging those for whom they are responsible to vote.

Hazel Weiser, an attorney and member of the League’s Criminal Justice Committee, who conducted the survey said: “The people who are detained in our county jails are perhaps our most vulnerable residents and, as a result of over-policing, disproportionately Black and Brown. We need to invest in helping these people rise out of their cycle of helplessness by assisting them in understanding that they have something to contribute to our society.”

Given the results of the survey, recommendations to enhance voting among this population were offered. They include:

  • Having the League of Women Voters design and distribute voting guides to each county Sheriff and, where possible, coordinate civics classes and voter registration drives; 
  • Having the State Board of Elections develop informational materials to encourage registration and participation in all elections;  
  • Having each sheriff appoint a staff member to be responsible for assisting those detained in their facilities in exercising their right to vote. 
  • Having each jail offer a safe and private space where individuals could complete registration and other voting procedures, including the casting of an absentee ballot.

The survey was considered and approved by the League’s state board in early June, thereby making its recommendations policies of the League for which it will be advocating. Read the original press release and full report here.