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Casting a Wider Ballot: The Fight for Voting Rights in NY

By Tahirih Anthony on June, 25 2024

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In the bustling realm of New York politics, the Common Justice Policy Team had the honor of participating in SOMOS, Inc.'s Puerto Rico Conference in November 2023. SOMOS, Inc., a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to uniting and uplifting the Latine community, provided a stage for vital discussions on pressing issues. Notably, a workshop featuring Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, Senators Julia Salazar and Zellnor Myrie, and other influential panelists unveiled a powerful movement in Puerto Rico - the right to vote for incarcerated individuals. 

As we enter an election year in New York, these discussions take on even greater significance. With the primaries today, June 25, and the general election set for November 5, voting rights are at the forefront of political discourse. This is a pivotal moment for New Yorkers to reflect on the principles of democracy and inclusivity that will shape the future of our state. 

In Puerto Rico, incarcerated individuals boldly wrote to  Governor Pedro Pierluisi, advocating for their voting rights. To the surprise of many, Governor Pierluisi listened, setting an example that New Yorkers can learn from and emulate. In Puerto Rico, a powerful ethos pervades the community: "Somos Puerto Rico." This philosophy transcends labels and backgrounds, uniting Puerto Ricans as a cohesive people. Whether someone has a criminal record or not, they are seen first and foremost as part of the Puerto Rican community. This deep-rooted sense of unity has played a crucial role in the success of the movement advocating for the voting rights of incarcerated individuals. 

The governor's positive response wasn’t just a political decision; it was a reflection of the collective belief that every Puerto Rican’s voice matters, irrespective of their circumstances. This solidarity and commitment to inclusivity allowed Puerto Rico to make significant strides in expanding democratic participation for all its citizens. New York stands to gain immensely by embracing this spirit of unity.  

It's essential to question why New Yorkers should lose their right to vote when incarcerated. By denying this fundamental right, we risk further marginalizing a significant portion of our population and perpetuating a cycle of disenfranchisement. Allowing individuals in prison to vote encourages civic engagement, rehabilitation, and a sense of responsibility that can contribute positively to their reintegration into society. It is their fundamental right.  

Lawmakers are working to amend the New York State Constitution to allow those who are incarcerated an opportunity to vote (S316-Salazar/A412-Epstein). Amendments to the  New York State Constitution, require a bill to be passed by both chambers in consecutive legislative cycles. Once it has been successfully passed in two consecutive sessions, the bill will then be placed on a ballot—ultimately giving the decision to the voters. And frankly, that's exactly where it should be. After all, who better to shape the future of New York than New Yorkers themselves? New Yorkers have a unique opportunity to shape the future of democracy in their state, following the lead of  Puerto Rico, Maine, DC, and Vermont 

New Yorkers can champion a more representative and equitable political system by casting their votes in favor of inclusivity.  This legislation entrusts New Yorkers with the choice to redefine democracy in their state. At Common Justice, we advocate for giving the power back to the people. As we gear up for the New York State primaries in June, it's not only an exciting moment for democratic participation but also an opportune time to confront a stark reality.  Some of our fellow New Yorkers find themselves excluded from the democratic process. They are denied a fundamental right—the right to vote—perpetuating a cycle of disenfranchisement that contradicts the core principles of our democracy. 

Recognizing the harmful impact of excluding certain individuals from this civic duty is essential. Every New Yorker, regardless of their circumstances, should have the opportunity to participate in shaping the future of our state. The proposed bill to restore voting rights for incarcerated individuals represents a chance to rectify this injustice, providing a path towards a fairer and more just society. 

Inspired by the proactive steps taken in Puerto Rico, let's not only acknowledge the urgency of implementing a more inclusive and democratic voting system in New York but actively work towards it. As we exercise our democratic rights in the primaries, let's also consider those who are unable to join us at the ballot box and advocate for a New York where every voice is heard, and every vote truly counts. 

Every voice counts in shaping the future of our communities. By voting, you make your voice heard and contribute to a more inclusive and equitable society. Don't let this opportunity pass you by. To see who will be on your ballot and make informed choices, visit or the New York State Board of Elections. Your vote is your voice—make it count! 


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