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Officials speak out against parolees voting at schools

A polling station in Madison, Wis., Aug. 14, 2018.
September 12, 2018 09:32 pm

HUDSON — Law enforcement officials are speaking out against parolees, including sex offenders, voting at schools across the state in primaries today, but few schools will be offered as polling places in the Twin Counties.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced April 18 he would issue a blanket pardon giving those under parole supervision the right to vote. There are 36,000 parolees across the state — with an average of about 2,000 added each month.

The measure also gave paroled sex offenders the right to visit schools to vote after 7 p.m., causing alarm among some law enforcement officials.

But in Columbia County, most polling sites are located in town halls, community centers, churches and firehouses, according to the Columbia County Board of Elections website.

Voters in Columbia County would vote in two public school districts. Some voters in election districts in Kinderhook will vote at Ichabod Crane Central School in Valatie while others in Ghent and Chatham would vote at the Mary E. Dardess Elementary School in Chatham.

Police are concerned that students are participating in school functions and sporting events after 7 p.m.

Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett joined two other county sheriffs – from Saratoga and Rensselaer counties – at a press conference Monday at the Rensselaer County Jail in Troy.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our kids,” Bartlett said in a statement Monday. “We work hard to protect our school campuses from threats of all kinds, and that includes the dangers of sex offenders. If the governor feels so impassioned about letting convicted felons vote, I’d highly recommend he finds a way of doing it that doesn’t compromise the safety of our youth.”

Meanwhile, there are no polling places for the primary at public schools in Greene County. There are six school districts in Greene County.

“It’s not a concern and it doesn’t affect us here,” Catskill Police Chief Dave Darling said, adding no polling places will be at the Catskill Central School District for the state primary vote.

“I don’t think parolees belong in the school district and they shouldn’t be there,” Darling said. “But it is up to parole to monitor them.”

Since passing a resolution in 2015, the New York State School Boards Association has advocated giving school districts the choice to opt out of having polling places on their premises, School Boards Association General Counsel Jay Worona said Wednesday.

The resolution passed by school board officials across the state asks the state Legislature to pass legislation that would protect schools against “all individuals who have ill intent,” Worona said.

The proposed legislation is pending in the state Legislature, Worona said.

Felons can’t register to vote unless “he shall have been pardoned or restored to the rights of citizenship by the governor, or his maximum sentence of imprisonment has expired, or he has been discharged from parole,” according to state election law.

Cuomo on April 18 called it unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have re-entered society.

“In this state, when you’re released from prison and you’re on parole, you still don’t have the right to vote,” Cuomo said in April. “Now how can that be? You did your time, you paid your debt, you’re released, but you still don’t have a right to vote. At the same time, we’re saying we want you to be part of society, we want you to get back into the community.”

Cuomo announced his order as he and his Democratic primary opponent, former “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon vie for the African-American vote.

State Republican officials criticized Cuomo’s order. Senate majority leader John J. Flanagan told reporters April 18 that it “circumvents the law.”

On the eve of the primary vote, Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro issued a strong response in opposition to Cuomo on the issue Wednesday.

“Yet again the governor has put his political interests ahead of the safety of New Yorkers,” Molinaro said in a video on his Facebook page.

The New York Times contributed to this story.