ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — New York state will restore the voting rights of parolees under an executive order issued Wednesday by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo that will impact as many as 35,000 New Yorkers who have served time for felonies.

The move adds New York to a list of more than a dozen states and the District of Columbia that give convicted felons the right to vote once they have completed their prison sentences. Republicans immediately slammed the move as bad public policy and potentially illegal, since Cuomo chose to circumvent the Legislature.

Cuomo said the voting prohibition disproportionately impacts minorities, noting that nearly three-fourths of those currently on parole in New York are black or Latino. He said giving people back the right to vote can be one way of helping them re-establish ties to their communities as law-abiding citizens.

"It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have paid their debt and have re-entered society," Cuomo said. "This reform will reduce disenfranchisement and will help restore justice and fairness to our democratic process. Withholding or delaying voting rights diminishes our democracy."

The restoration of voting rights won't be automatic. Instead, Cuomo will direct state corrections officials to review a list of former inmates now subject to parole supervision. Those officials will have the discretion to prevent certain offenders from regaining their rights.

Criminal justice reform advocates hailed the move. Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, called it "an enormous step forward."

By issuing an executive order, Cuomo was able to sidestep the state Legislature, where the Republican leaders of the state Senate could have blocked the move. State GOP Chairman Ed Cox called the order "liberal lunacy," while Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan, R-Long Island, said he believes the move was illegal since it circumvented lawmakers.

Both suggested Cuomo had political motives for the action.

"I'm dumfounded," Flanagan told reporters at the Capitol Wednesday. "It's bad public policy, it circumvents the law. It basically says there's no need for a Legislature whatsoever. ... This will allow rapists and murderers to be given voting privileges that they don't deserve."

Cuomo faces a spirited primary challenge this fall from "Sex and the City" star Cynthia Nixon, a liberal activist who has accused Cuomo of failing to follow through on liberal promises during his two terms as governor. On Wednesday, her campaign said the executive order was more evidence that he's feeling the pressure from the left.

"Now he's scared of communities all across New York who want to replace him with a real Democrat," Nixon said in a statement. "We don't buy the governor's new song-and-dance routine."

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