April 18 (UPI) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order Wednesday granting voting rights to all paroled felons in the state.
The executive order came after Cuomo said he proposed the idea to the state Senate, but a bill was never advanced.
"It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have paid their debt and have re-entered society," Cuomo, a Democrat, said. "This reform will reduce disenfranchisement and will help restore justice and fairness to our democratic process."
There are about 35,000 people on parole in New York state. The executive order means New York joins 18 other states and the District of Columbia granting voting rights to parolees.
"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 during a speech at a National Action Network conference in Manhattan. "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."
His office said preventing parolees from voting disproportionately affects African-American and Hispanic New Yorkers -- who make up 71 percent of parolees.
New York Senate Republican leader John Flanagan said Cuomo's order "circumvents the law."
"I'm, like, in awe. I'm dumbfounded," he said according to The New York Times. "This is a radical, and I mean radical, departure from the way legislation should be enacted."
"For eight years, Cuomo governed like a Republican -- handing control of our state to his ultra-rich donors and the party of Trump," she wrote on Twitter. "Now he's scared of communities all across New York who want to replace him with a real Democrat.