Gov. Cuomo oversteps on parolee voting
May 4, 2018


We are glad New York is not one of those states that takes away voting rights for life from people convicted of felony crimes. That's wrong as well as puzzling: Correction should include carrots (such as the restoration of a citizen's rights) as well as sticks. Once these people have paid their debts to society, we strongly believe their voting rights should be restored.

But when should that debt be considered paid? A prisoner doesn't qualify, but what about someone released on parole? What about someone on probation? That's a good question for our lawmakers to discuss.

Currently in New York, in general, probationers can vote, but prisoners and parolees can't. Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks parolees should get to vote, too. Last year he proposed a bill to that effect, but it died on the legislature floor.

Such things happen all the time in a congressional democracy. Cuomo is welcome to try the bill again.

But now, suddenly, our governor cannot live with lawmakers being the ones to make laws.

"I'm unwilling to take no for an answer," he announced April 18. "I'm going to make it law by executive order."

And so he did.

Was this legal? We're not sure. It involves some creative finagling. He's doing it through a partial pardon that would only restore voting rights, not blot out the offenses. Starting May 1, this pardon is automatically issued to all parolees except those his office decides shouldn't get it.

Cuomo's pledge to "make it law" is a confession that he is overstepping his authority, breaching the separation of powers that is essential to our system of government. Governors already have loads of power without letting them take over the legislative branch as well. Laws shouldn't be made by a single person; they should be deliberated by a varied body of elected lawmakers and passed only when that body's majority and the executive approve. It's a slow and imperfect process, but liberty is endangered when lawmaking is too whimsically easy.

Cuomo is far from the first executive to make laws by executive order. Every U.S. president has done so, and let's not forget that Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was an executive order, justified by wartime. Few today would doubt that freeing slaves was the right thing to do, but there was real doubt at the time whether the other branches of government would support it. Congress ended the controversy, and slavery, by passing the 13th Amendment.

Cuomo's intent here looks like political expediency. Parolee voting hasn't been an emergency in any of his other seven years as governor, nor was it an emergency when he backed the bill last year. But this is an election year, and he is being provoked by left-wing primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, who is quick to call people racist.

Maybe now it's time to hear from the third branch of government, the judicial. We would like to see Cuomo's parolee conditional pardon plan challenged in court.


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