ALBANY — Some convicted sex offenders will be able to enter schools to vote in Thursday’s primary under certain restrictions, in a move by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that Republican nominee for governor Marc Molinaro said would put children at risk.
In May, Cuomo restored voting rights to 24,000 felons on parole, including convicted sex offenders, who sought reinstatement of the right to vote. This week the state Department of Corrections issued a “special condition” that a paroled sex offender can enter a school to vote, but only if he or she receives written permission from his or her parole officer and the school superintendent before Election Day. Sex offenders on parole also can’t enter schools to vote until 7 p.m. and must “not remain in or loiter around the school grounds once the voting process is completed.”
The department cited a 20-year-old law that allows a convicted sex offender to enter a school if he or she is a student or “participant” in an event, or has a relative enrolled in the school, but only with direct approval of the school district superintendent and the felon’s parole officer. The law refers to Level 3 sex offenders, which the state Division of Criminal Justice Services defines as at “high risk of repeat offense and a threat to public safety exists.”
“It defies reason to open our schools to convicted child molesters,” Molinaro said. “Now, six days before his gubernatorial primary, he’s unfairly placed the burden of his rash decision on school superintendents who are caught completely blindsided by his actions.”
Molinaro said Cuomo, who is facing liberal challenger Cynthia Nixon in Thursday’s primary, was making “a mess . . . because of his bungling and mad desire for votes next week.”
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi responded: “It’s pathetic that not only is Molinaro trying to fear-monger for political gain, he does it while also showing that he has no idea what he’s talking about. The truth is the governor’s action put New York on par with 16 other states — liberal and conservative — that restore voting rights to the formerly incarcerated and do so in the way that’s exactly prescribed by law.”
Bob Lowry of the state Council of School Superintendents said he wasn’t aware of the state’s decision and was unsure if school superintendents were.
“It’s very clear that districts have been doing a lot over the last six months to make their schools safe,” Lowry said. “I’m not certain, but I think in terms of what I said about never wanting to feel you did something or failed to do something that assured the safety of students, I can certainly see superintendents having reservations about this . . . often public schools are busy into the evening.”
Azzopardi said a superintendent would have a list of all sex offenders in the district as well as requests by paroled sex offenders to vote. Those lists could be provided to poll workers and school officials. He said any parolee without permission from the superintendent who tried to vote could be identified by poll workers or, later, by parole officers, and the parolee would face sanctions.
Molinaro said school officials and poll workers didn’t have time to monitor whether parolees were entering the schools. “Until this moment, there was no question whether Level 3 sex offenders could be within 1,000 feet of a school,” Molinaro said. “This isn’t fantasy or made up. These are individuals who can’t help themselves.”