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Community Groups Urge NYS Lawmakers To Pass Two Voting Reform Measures

WAMC, Allison Dunne

Community leaders from the Hudson Valley were in Newburgh Thursday, calling on the New York state legislature to pass additional voting reforms before the session ends next week.

Members of community groups from Newburgh and Poughkeepsie are calling on state lawmakers to pass two bills concerning voting rights. While they praise the already approved early voting and consolidated primaries, they say more needs to be done to help break down barriers to voting.

“And I’m standing in front of everybody as a person who last year, for the first time voted in my life. Last year was the first time in my life that I voted,” Pagan says. “And the reason why I didn’t vote was because prior to voting, I served 25 years of incarceration. I went in at the age of 18 and I came home at the age of 43.”

That’s Angelo Pagan. He’s a workforce development instructor with Exodus Transitional Community. Pagan and the others on hand want the legislature to pass a bill restoring voting rights to parolees. Hudson Valley co-sponsors in the Senate are David Carlucci and Pete Harckham; in the Assembly, Tom Abinanti and Amy Paulin; all Democrats. There have been versions of the legislation going back to 2009. In April 2018, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to restore voting rights to individuals on parole. Geri Wilmott is with ENJAN —  End the New Jim Crow Action Network of Poughkeepsie.

“We want Governor Cuomo’s conditional pardon codified to make parolees automatically eligible to vote,” Wilmott says. “We want an end to the New Jim Crow now in New York state.”

The bill’s wording says the restoration of voting rights to parolees would facilitate community reintegration and participation in the civic process, which, for Pagan, is important.

“Something as small as the ability to vote is just one of many more reasons for me to not go back to prison. And I have to look for as many reasons as possible,” says Pagan. “Some of us have to work harder than others to get our lives back. And just being able to vote is one more thing on my list of many that keeps me out here and productive.”

“At any given time, about 30,000 people are on parole in New York,” says Wong. “Nearly three-quarters are either Black or Latino, and most are poor.”

Shannon Wong is director of the Lower Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. She and others are also pushing for automatic voter registration.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy, but New York’s registration rates are among the lowest in the country, and our felony disenfranchisement laws are a terrible vestige of Jim Crow,” Wong says. “By instituting automatic voter registration and allowing people who have completed their prison sentences to re-engage with our political system, New York can turn the tide of its dismal political participation and give New Yorkers a voice in our government.”

Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey:

“Automatic voter registration should happen and it should happen yesterday,” Harvey says.

Democratic Orange County Legislator Kevindaryan Lujan represents Newburgh and supports both bills.

“If you look at cities across, across New York state, it’s communities like ours, in the City of Newburgh, the City of Poughkeepsie, the City of Middletown, these are the communities that actually have amongst the lowest voter turnout,” Lujan says. “And it’s unfortunate because we have a lot of people who are communities of color, young people, seniors, people who have mental health issues, who unfortunately are not able to vote. This would make it easier for them, and this is precisely why we have to support it.”

Again, Harvey:

“When we talk about automatic voting registration and restoring the ability for parolees to vote, this is a no-brainer,” says Harvey.

The rally was held in Fresh Start Café in Newburgh, one of RECAP’s workforce development programs. RECAP, or the Regional Economic Community Action Program also runs a parole reentry program in Orange County. Michelle McKeon is RECAP chief operating officer.

“Full voting rights need to be restored from people who have paid their debts to society the moment they step out of prison,” McKeon says. “That is non-negotiable and that is a right.”

RECAP also is the state-designated anti-poverty agency in the county.

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