Gothamist: Rikers Voter Registration Drive Gains Momentum


Earlier this month, the de Blasio administration announced that the city would facilitate the retrieval of voter registration forms and absentee ballots from city jails, to ensure that votes from jailed New Yorkers are counted. This initiative would bypass the jail mailing system, "which is subject to security procedures that may have inadvertently caused missed deadlines," City Hall said in a statement.

The initiative, however, does not include inmates convicted of a felony, who are prohibited by state law from voting while serving time or on parole. Of the 8,000 people on Rikers, about 6,000 are eligible to vote, according to a city estimate.

"What we found over the years is there really wasn’t any effort to help them vote, no real absentee ballot efforts or registration efforts,” de Blasio told reporters earlier this month. “From now on we’re going to change that... There will be ongoing voting registration on Rikers Island and in the whole correction system. There will be efforts to give the absentee ballots to inmates for the districts they come from and a real effort to encourage voting."

The city is partnering with Legal Aid, along with the Department of Correction and the Campaign Finance Board, on the voter registartion initiative. Legal Aid has also launched an effort to register eligible voters on Rikers Island. 320 people there have since been registered to vote, Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney with the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society, told Gothamist.

"For the vast majority of people at Rikers, this is their first time registering," Posada said. Legal Aid has also brought in people proficient in sign language, to help deaf people at Rikers sign up to vote. One of the long term goals is to get a polling center installed at Rikers, said Posada.

Members of the Ocasio-Cortez campaign were also a part of the registration drive.

“Incarceration does not define these individuals, and they are entitled to express their opinion and deserve to be heard just like everyone else,” Posada added in the city's statement. “We’re proud to help re-enfranchise and empower those New Yorkers who felt they had no role in our democracy because of their incarceration. Voting is a sacred right that helps with the transition back to society and it should never be hindered.”

Back in April, Governor Cuomo signed an executive order restoring the right to vote for parolees, affecting 35,000 people on parole. The deadline to vote in the general elections on November 6th is October 12th.