Know Your Rights: Voting Rights and Civic Participation
Voting Rights and Civic Participation
Civic participation includes all the ways citizens participate in the democratic process. It includes the right to vote, serve on a jury, and run for elected office.
In New York State, as long as you are a U.S. citizen 18 or older, you can vote unless you are currently in state prison or on parole for a felony conviction. Once you no longer have to report to a parole officer, you can vote, even if you were convicted of a felony. If you were convicted of a felony but never went to prison, you can vote – even if you served time in a local jail, or are currently on probation. In New York, misdemeanor or violation convictions never affect your right to vote in any election.
1. When do I lose my right to vote?
- You only lose your right to vote in New York State if you have been convicted of a felony under state or federal law and are currently serving time in prison or on parole.
- You can vote even if you have been convicted of a felony if a) there was no prison sentence; b) the sentence has been suspended; or c) you have completed your prison sentence and are no longer on parole.
- Voting rights of individuals with criminal records are laid out in New York Election Law Section 5-106 (Qualifications for voters; reasons for exclusion).
2. If I have been convicted of a misdemeanor or violation, can I vote?
- Yes. Misdemeanor and violation convictions do not bar you from voting.
3. If I was convicted of a felony and got a suspended sentence, can I vote?
- Yes, you can vote if you have a suspended sentence, even for a felony.
4. If I have been convicted in another state, do I lose my right to vote?
- If the conviction would have been a felony in New York, you can vote as soon as you have completed the sentence (of prison and/or parole) you received for the conviction. If it would have been a misdemeanor or violation, you never lose your right to vote.
5. If I am on Federal post-release supervision in New York for a federal felony, can I vote?
- Yes. The Board of Elections has issued an official opinion stating that individuals on federal post-release supervision have completed their sentence and can vote. You can view the opinion on Reentry Net/NY (http://www.reentry.net/ny/library/attachment.116267).
6. If I have been convicted of a felony, can I get my right to vote back?
- Yes. Your right to vote is automatically returned once you are out of state prison and off of parole. All you have to do is register to vote.
- If you are on parole, you can get your right to vote back with a Certificate of Relief from Civil Disabilities or a Certificate of Good Conduct.
- Under New York Election Law, individuals with felony convictions may also get their right to vote back if they are pardoned by the President of the United States (in cases of federal felony convictions) or the Governor of New York (in cases of state felony convictions).
- However, these are very rarely granted.
- The Executive Clemency Bureau, which is within the Division of Parole, screens candidates for eligibility requirements.
7. How do I get my right to vote back after I have completed my sentence?
- You must register to vote. (See below for how to register)
- If you have any trouble registering to vote call the Voter Enfranchisement Project at The Bronx Defenders (718) 838-7878. If you have any trouble voting at the polls call Election Protection: (800) OUR-VOTE or (800) 687-8683.
8. If I am on parole and not incarcerated, is there any way that I can still vote?
- Yes. If you are granted a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities, you may be able to register to vote. This is explained in Corrections Law Section 701.
9. How do I register to vote?
- You may register by phone by calling 1-800-FOR-VOTE (1-800-367-8683)
- You may register in person by either
- Going to your county board of elections office or at any New York State Agency-Based voter registration center
- You can find out where these offices are by going to the New York State Board of Elections website at: http://www.elections.ny.gov/ and clicking on the tab titled “Voting.” You can also get a copy of the application in English and Spanish from this website.
10. When is the last day before an election to register to vote?
- In order to vote on Election Day, you must register to vote at least 25 days before that election.
- To vote in the 2010 election on November 2, 2010 your voter registration form must be postmarked no later than Friday, October 8, 2010.
- To vote in the 2011 election on November 8, 2010, your voter registration form must be postmarked no later than Friday, October 14.
1. If I have been convicted of a felony, can I still serve on a jury?
- No. The New York Judiciary Law Section 510 specifically states that people with felony convictions may not serve on juries. But if you have been convicted of a misdemeanor or violation you may still serve on a jury.
2. Will a Certificate of Relief from Disability or Certificate of Good Conduct restore my ability to serve on a jury?
- If you have a felony conviction, obtaining a Certificate of Relief from Disability or a Certificate of Good Conduct can make you eligible to serve on a jury again.
- Once you have one of these Certificates, you can apply to become a juror, but the Commissioner on Jurors may still reject you. A Certificate will get you around the law that prevents people with felony convictions from being jurors, but the local Commissioner on Jurors will still decide whether you are qualified.
- Jurors are chosen from “jury rolls,” which are lists of people from the State Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Taxation and Finance, and Board of Election. If you have a Certificate, you may get selected from one of these lists. If you want to ensure that you will be called to serve on a jury you can submit a qualification questionnaire and your Certificate to the local Commissioner of Jurors.
- To get a qualification questionnaire and find your local Commissioner of Jurors, see http://www.nycourtsystem.com/Applications/Forms/NYJuror/volunteer_start.php.
3. If I have been convicted of a misdemeanor or violation and served a jail sentence, can I still serve on a jury?
- Yes. Only people with felony convictions are not allowed to serve on juries.
Running for Elected office
1. If I have been convicted of a felony may I run for elected office?
- Yes. However, New York Civil Rights Law Section 79 states that if you are currently a public officer and convicted of a felony, “or a crime involving a violation of their oath of office,” then you must be removed from your position.
- Similarly, judges must be removed from office if they are convicted of a felony, “or any other crime which involves moral turpitude” and once a judge is removed he or she cannot hold another judicial office.
* This handout is an excerpt from The Consequences of Criminal Charges: A People’s Guide, published by The Bronx Defenders. It is for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for legal advice. It is up to date as of October 2010.