Six months ago, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that provisionally pardoned the people on parole in the state – 35,000 in all.

[See a response from the Malloy administration below — Ed]

It was the fact that the New York State Assembly had just refused to refranchise paroled would-be voters that motivated Cuomo to take bold action.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy needs to follow Cuomo’s example and take action by himself to restore voting rights to people who are currently on parole in Connecticut.

A almost identical situation played out here in Connecticut around the same time as the parolee voting rights tussle in New York. House Bill 5418, “An Act Restoring Electoral Privileges to Felony Convicts who Are on Parole” was introduced in March. The bill had notable support, including from Malloy himself and members of his cabinet.

Yet HB 5418 was debated in the House of Representatives and tabled; it didn’t even get a vote.

The debate, though, was telling. In arguing that refranchising parolees was a bad idea, one state representative, a criminal defense attorney, made a speech on the floor of the House that voting is a privilege and not an “absolute right.”

This lawyer may need to brush up on his constitutional law. As others have noted, the U.S. Constitution describes the ability to vote as a right five times throughout the document. Free speech, bearing arms and due process are mentioned as rights only one time each.

Voting might be the biggest constitutional right that we have in this country because it’s essential to freedom and to citizenship.

Malloy has established himself as a trailblazer, even a visionary, on criminal policy reform and was once named “the Second Chance Governor” for the progressive justice measures enacted here during his tenure, including allowing a conference to be live-streamed from one of the state’s prisons.

Leaving office as Connecticut remains the last state on the east coast that continues to deny the vote to parolees doesn’t jibe with the leader Malloy has become.

To make his legacy complete, he needs to do what’s within his power to make elections fair in this state and stop stripping people who’ve earned a second chance of their rights to participate in democracy.

Granted, the pardon system in New York is different than it is in Connecticut because Gov. Cuomo has pardon authority through the New York state constitution. The Connecticut Constitution doesn’t allow our governor to pardon anyone, even provisionally. Pardons, which are formal acts of forgiveness of crimes that include expungement of records, are the province of the Board of Pardons and Paroles alone.

But Malloy is still fully capable of issuing an executive order that grants people on parole the right to vote — the right to be fully free citizens — in Connecticut. The Connecticut Constitution did retain for the governor the executive authority to issue reprieves — (Article Four, Section 13) temporary stays of sentence — to anyone convicted of a crime.

The reason why parolees are disallowed from voting is that they’re technically still serving a sentence, unlike people on probation, who’ve been restored the right to vote in Connecticut since 2002 because they’ve been deemed to have completed their sentences.

Malloy can issue a reprieve for every person serving a parole sentence in the state and make them eligible to vote under Connecticut General Statutes. His reprieve power is perfectly suited to accomplishing for parolees what the General Assembly refused to do.

It’s not like Malloy is skittish about using his executive power. He did it just recently when the General Assembly refused to vote on several bills which would have authorized the study and implementation of tolls. In the absence of statutes, and in the face of public and political opposition, Malloy ordered a $10 million study all by himself.

And it’s not a situation where Malloy would be removing parolees from all supervision or restitution orders. Just as Gov. Cuomo did with his conditional pardon for parolees in his state, Malloy can tailor his reprieve order so that it doesn’t let parolees completely off the hook. Parolees’ sentences can be stayed only with respect to registering to vote. That’s the beauty of executive power; it’s all up to Malloy.

Any type of felony disenfranchisement is detrimental to more than just the people it makes ineligible to vote; it affects elections by restricting turnout. Disenfranchisement suppresses a larger electorate than just those who’ve lost their rights. A study published in Probation Journal revealed that many returning citizens don’t understand that they are eligible to vote even when they are. Whenever one sector of a criminal justice-involved population loses its vote, other sectors assume it applies to them, too. It’s one of the downsides of creating awareness of the unfairness of felon disenfranchisement; efforts have backfired and convinced eligible voters that they’re still sidelined.

As he prepares to leave office, Malloy shouldn’t be hamstrung by a legislature that doesn’t get it. He needs keep up with the Cuomo’s and create voting rights for parolees — all by himself.

Chandra Bozelko lives in Orange and is a former inmate at York Correctional Institution. Prison Diaries, the column she wrote in prison, won a Webby Award on May 14, 2018.

[Editor’s note: The Malloy administration says it does not have the authority to grant reprieves allowing parolees to vote, citing the following statute:

Sec. 9-46a. Restoration or granting of electoral privileges. (a) A person who has been convicted of a felony and committed to confinement in a federal or other state correctional institution or facility or community residence shall have such person’s electoral privileges restored upon the payment of all fines in conjunction with the conviction and once such person has been discharged from confinement, and, if applicable, parole. ]

[Bozelko responds:

While it is true that Gov. Malloy cannot reach out and simply restore voting rights to any one person or group, that is not what I called for here.

Just like there was no barrier to Gov. Cuomo’s pardoning parolees en masse in New York, there is no reason that Gov. Malloy cannot issue reprieves to the approximately 4000 parolees in Connecticut; that is his right as the chief executive officer of the state. Technically, he could issue a reprieve to every inmate in the state and suspend their sentences, but that would invite total chaos so I don’t think Gov. Malloy should or would so do such a thing – but he could. And that’s my point. He has power and he’s wasting it in not helping parolees vote.

Issuing reprieves would discharge parolees from supervision. Then, according to Connecticut General Statutes Sec. 9-46a, the statute cited by the Malloy administration, those people would be eligible to register to vote.

Besides, it’s not as if Malloy honors laws that he sees as thwarting the state’s goals. As I argued above, Gov. Malloy spent $10 million on a toll feasibility study even though the ultimate authority to spend public funds is vested in the General Assembly, not the Governor. He did this out of frustration with the failure of his General Assembly to vote on the toll study this legislative session.

That the Governor and his cabinet won’t consider a bold move for refranchising parolees, especially since Malloy is not running for re-election, calls into question their dedication to justice reform. Issuing reprieves to parolees in Connecticut would be an innovative and legal way to take a stand that every adult outside a correctional facility deserves the right to vote. ]

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