New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has laid out a new voter registration drive in the city’s correctional facilities.
Eligible inmates will be able to directly sign up to vote and have their absentee ballots picked up from jail. In the past, these forms and ballots were sent through regular mail, where security measures could cause delays.
Inmates would register to vote using their home address, the mayor said. Those who have prior felony convictions wouldn’t be eligible to vote.
The debate over restoring voting rights for people who have been convicted of a felony or who are on parole has been playing out across several states.
In New York, the goal is to increase voter participation and is part of a larger effort, dubbed DemocracyNYC, that also seeks to change state law to allow same-day voter registration.
On Monday, volunteers from the Campaign Finance Board and the Legal Aid Society—who are all part of the voter drive—displayed posters and handed out information to inmates about registering to vote. Libraries in jails will also be stocked with information on candidates for upcoming elections.
Thousands of people could register under the new initiative. The Department of Correction couldn’t tell for certain how many of its more than 8,000 inmates in custody are eligible to vote, since it doesn’t ask for citizenship status, a department spokesman said.
However, 2,000 people in custody are currently ineligible to vote because they have been sentenced on a felony charge or are on parole.
“Reminding the incarcerated that their vote matters is a powerful way of reinforcing their ties to our community and is just as important as the many job training and re-entry programs we offer every day,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann.
Also on Monday, Mr. de Blasio signed a bill that makes all phone calls from jail free for inmates, which he said was another step to improving in the rehabilitation process.