NEWBURGH – Community activists, voters’ rights organizations and elected officials rallied in the City of Newburgh, Thursday, urging the community to contact their state representatives to pass two pieces of voter’s rights legislation regarding automatic voter registration and the right to vote for paroled felons.
Automatic voter registration, which also goes by the Voter Empowerment Act of New York, would allow automatic voter registration to occur at more government and municipal agencies than the DMV, as well as allow for pre-voter registration for those 16 years of age and up.
Voting for paroled felons was enacted through an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo last year, but would need to be codified into law. In the Assembly, it is listed as bill a4987 and has companion legislation before the State Senate.
It is believed this legislation alone could increase the voting base of Orange County anywhere from the hundreds of voters to the low thousands, according to activists and local officials.
Specifically, regarding voting eligibility for paroled felons, the argument was made that part of one’s reintegration into society is participating within the democratic process.
Angelo Pagan, a former paroled felon who now works as a workforce development agent for the Exodus agency, said he voted for the first time last year and it was not only a point of personal pride, but also another reason to live a straight life.
“Something as small as the ability to vote is just one of many more reasons, for me, to not to go back to prison and I have to look for as many reasons as possible,” said 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 and productive.”
Voting for paroled felons and automatic voter registration would help raise the voices of disenfranchised communities significantly, according to NAACP First Vice Chairman Ray Harvey.
Harvey said many times people in communities don’t know they have to register and have no transportation, or support. Automatic voter registration would allow them to become registered from virtually any government interaction.
Newburgh Mayor Torrance Harvey said people being disenfranchised in this way is just another example of how government will exclude people, rather than include them and these measures are a big step toward inclusion.
“We can go on and on and on, where people are excluded instead of being included. People are disenfranchised and that’s why we’re here,” said Harvey. “We don’t want people to be disenfranchised; we want everyone who is of legal age to participate and vote.”
Local residents are encouraged to contact their state representatives, from both the Assembly and Senate, asking them to vote on these bills before the end of the current legislative session.