City Council Passes Jailhouse Voting Rights Bill

The entrance to Rikers Island.  Eagle  photo by David Brand.

The entrance to Rikers Island. Eagle photo by David Brand.

By Jonathan Sperling

It’s your right to vote — and now individuals released from the city’s jails have a right to know, thanks to the passage of a new council bill.

The City Council voted 41-2 in favor of passing Intro. 514 on Wednesday, requiring the Department of Correction (DOC) to inform every person released from a city jail of their voting rights.

“An overwhelming number of individuals released from DOC custody have the right to vote, yet the majority are unaware of that right,” said Councilmember Rory Lancman, the bill sponsor, after the vote. “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.”

More specifically, the bill mandates that DOC provide every person released from a city jail with written notice outlining the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals in New York State as well as details on voter eligibility.

“For too long, the incarceration of our clients has stripped them of their right to vote resulting in the disenfranchisement of entire communities, regardless of their status they are entitled to express their opinion and deserve to be heard just like everyone else,” said Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney with the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society.

“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 first step to begin correcting this injustice,” Posada added.

The new legislation also requires that the DOC offer every formerly incarcerated person a voter registration form.

Councilmember Joseph C. Borelli and Councilmember Steven Matteo, both of Staten Island, were the only members who voted against the bill.