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Press release/statement

STATEMENT: New York City Council To Hold May 2nd Hearing On Election Reform

New York, N.Y. — In an effort to reduce widespread barriers faced by New York City's voters, the New York City Council Committee on Governmental Operations, Chaired by Councilmember Bill Perkins, will hold a hearing on Monday, May 2, 2005, to consider legislation that would reform the city's administration of elections. The committee will also be asked to pass resolutions that support the Count Every Vote Act of 2005 proposed Federal legislation that would improve voter participation and increase the fairness of our elections and call on the New York State legislature to extend voting rights to parolees.

The legislative changes under consideration by the City Council include Introduction 1, an amendment to the Pro-Voter Law of 2000, which mandates that city agencies provide voter registration opportunities for individuals who receive their services, and Introduction 560, which requires the Board of Elections to notify people who voted by affidavit or paper ballot about whether their vote was counted.

Among the experts who will testify on May 2 are Joseph "Jazz" Hayden, Director of the Unlock The Block: Release the Vote project to restore the right to vote to New Yorkers, and Steven Carbó, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos, a national voting rights group.

"The City Council should be commended for proposing to strengthen the Pro-Voter Law by improving agency voter registration procedures and ensuring that agency workers know how to implement the law," says Joseph Hayden. "But without mandatory annual training as called for in Introduction 1 the law can not be implemented effectively. Furthermore, with widespread misinformation about voter eligibility among those in the criminal justice system, the inclusion of voter eligibility information with the voter registration applications will be particularly beneficial in the Departments of Corrections and Probation."

The proposed amendments to the Pro-Voter Law include mandates requiring agencies to receive and transmit voter registration applications, provide eligibility information with voter registration forms, designate an individual within the agency to coordinate and monitor voter registration services, provide clients with assistance in completing voter registration applications and that staff at designated city agencies are trained annually on voter registration procedures.

The City Council will also consider a resolution asking the New York State Legislature to amend state law to extend the right to vote to people on parole. In New York, individuals on probation and those who have completed their sentences for felony convictions are able to vote.

"There is no distinction between probationers and parolees. Both are members of their communities who work, pay taxes, abide by the laws and both have been deemed fit to re-integrate into society," Hayden says. "Yet one group enjoys the right of the franchise while the other, parolees, remain unable to have a say in how their tax dollars are spent."

New York City Council members will also be asked to issue a resolution in support of the national Count Every Vote Act of 2005, which includes mandates such as Election Day Registration (EDR), automatic restoration of voting rights for federal elections for people with felony convictions who have completed their sentence, fair and impartial standards for counting affidavit ballots and meeting voter identification requirements, and other reforms that would increase access to the polls.

"But for the fact that New York is no 'swing state', we might have been the Florida of the 2004 elections," says Steven Carbó. "Our election system rates worse than 47 other states in several measures, such as the number of voters forced to vote by affidavit ballot. Over 100,000 of these votes were never counted -nine times the national rate."

"The City Council can again stand up for voters by urging passage of The Count Every Vote Act, a major election reform proposal that promises real solutions to the problems that plague our democratic system."

Unlock The Block: Release The Vote, housed at Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action, is part of the Right to Vote campaign, a national effort to restore the right to vote to people with felony convictions. Unlock The Block is advocating for legislative change to repeal or amend New York State's felon disenfranchisement statute and policy change to expand and improve eligibility notification, voter registration and absentee voting procedures in New York's criminal justice agencies.

Demos: A Network for Ideas & Action is a national, nonpartisan public policy and research organization based in New York.