Cuomo's Parolee Voting Decree: Good Politics, Bad Policy
He's considering pardons for all 35,000 felons currently on parole in New York. He wants the votes.
Admitting that he’s “unwilling to take no for an answer,” New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week circumvented the state legislature by signing a dubious executive order authorizing voting rights for 35,000 parolees. The process is rather cumbersome, as The New York Times explains:
The mechanism through which Mr. Cuomo plans to do so is unusual: He would consider pardons for all 35,000 people currently on parole in New York, as well as any new convicted felons who enter the parole system each month. … Mr. Cuomo’s executive order would require the commissioner of the state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to submit a list of every felon currently on parole, as well as a list of those newly eligible for parole, beginning May 1. … The commissioner would continue to submit an updated list each month, with each parolee “given consideration for a conditional pardon that will restore voting rights without undue delay,” according to the order.
The parolee-voting-rights concept is hardly novel. Numerous states have made it lawful for parolees to vote in elections. What’s disturbing in New York’s case (and others) is the process. Cuomo is governing through fiat because the state legislature isn’t comporting to his line of thinking. The Times reports that “the Republican-controlled Senate has opposed many of Mr. Cuomo’s proposed criminal justice reforms.” Fellow Democrat Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia pulled the same thing (unlawfully at first).
But just because a governor is engaged in a policy war with lawmakers doesn’t justify ignoring the legislature. That’s a slippery slope that won’t lead anywhere good. Besides, there’s a strategic angle to Cuomo’s decision — wooing minority voters to overshadow Cynthia Nixon, an actress with hopes of replacing Cuomo as governor. But again, a strategy does not equal good policy.
Heritage Foundation fellows Hans von Spakovsky and Roger Clegg addressed the issue of felon voter rights in a recent column. They appropriately write:
It is precisely because such a high percentage of criminals who are released are so unimproved that they find their way back into prison (nationally, more than half) that it makes sense to wait some period of time, as Florida does, to make sure that the felon really has turned over a new leaf. After that period of time … then the felon could have the right to vote restored. It should be rather like a naturalization ceremony, at a courthouse with friends and family present to celebrate, some official making a nice speech, American flags, and the felon raising his right hand. Now that would be a way to incentivize the reintegration of the felon back into civil society.
The fact that our politicians play games with felon voters should at the very least compel these former prisoners to think twice about the people they support politically.