Open Letter to the SI GOP Chair

Dear Chairman Lantry,

We are writing this open letter in response to your recently launched petition titled, “Tell Mayor de Blasio to stop his criminal voter registration plan.” The petition referred to an announcement from the NYC Board of Elections that it will help Rikers Island detainees register to vote and cast absentee ballots while in custody. We were deeply troubled by the petition. The SI GOP petition is ill-informed, misleading and we believe it has inherently racist undertones as 89% of Rikers Island detainees are Black or Latino. We are writing as non-partisan social justice activists on Staten Island who believe strongly in the intersectionality of racial justice, criminal justice reform and voting rights. We would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you about your petition.

To clear up some of the misleading statements in the petition:

First, state law prohibits individuals currently serving time for a felony or while on parole from voting. Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 181 in April 2018 which, “instructs the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections to submit a list of individuals on parole to the Governor's Office for review, whereupon he or she is considered for a pardon to restore voting rights.” (Brennan Center.) However, the Executive Order does not in itself change the state law prohibition on parolee voting, nor does it have any impact on those incarcerated for felony convictions.

Second, according to the #CLOSERikers campaign, 79% of detainees on Rikers Island haven’t been convicted of a crime; rather they’re being detained while presumed innocent and awaiting trial, many because they are simply too poor to afford bail. The remaining detainees are serving sentences of less than one year.

What Can We Do About It?

Instead of a petition to protest efforts to increase voter engagement, why not petition for meaningful bail and speedy trial reform so that these potential voters aren’t incarcerated without being convicted of a crime to begin with?

Don’t want to “waste” taxpayer dollars on voter registration efforts? We agree! Let’s work together to pass automatic voter registration in New York.

These are the real issues that our state and city are facing. If you as Chairman of the SI GOP were to back these bills and help persuade Republican lawmakers on Staten Island to support them too, we’d have a real shot at passing these important pieces of legislation.

We implore you to stop dividing Staten Islanders by playing to fears and biases. Instead, let’s work together to address the real issues and make New York fairer and more equitable for all.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Julienne Verdi, Jess Indelicato, Tysen Fingado, Jose Ramirez-Garafolo, Servete Kolar, Anuradha D. Kowolik, Rosanne Mottola, Sharmila Rao Thakkar, Magie Serpica and Lorilei A. Williams: Move Forward Staten Island Board of Directors

Move Forward Staten Island is a non-partisan organization committed to moving social justice issues forward through grassroots organizing, legislative actions and educational programming.

Julienne VerdiComment