SACRAMENTO – Thousands of parolees could regain the right to vote under a criminal justice bill approved Thursday by California lawmakers.
In bipartisan fashion, two-thirds of the Assembly voted in favor of a constitutional amendment that would restore voting rights to more than 48,000 Californians. If the Senate follows suit next week, voters will have the final say on the 2020 statewide ballot.
Supporters say allowing parolees to vote will reduce recidivism rates and encourage them to be civically engaged.
“This comes down to doing the right thing by supporting our fight for voting justice and helping rehabilitate individuals back into our communities,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, the bill’s author. “Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 supports California’s values, makes our communities safer and strengthens our democracy.”
Under California law, a person’s right to vote is suspended while they are incarcerated or out on parole for a felony conviction. But 16 other states and the District of Columbia allow people to vote as soon as they are released from prison. The bill’s supporters note that an estimated 4.6 million people nationwide can’t vote because of a felony conviction.
A collection of states over the last two years have restored voting rights for parolees, including New York, Florida and Colorado, while Maine and Vermont don’t disenfranchise felons.
The state Senate has until Sept. 13 to take up the measure, which would also need to be approved by a majority of voters in November 2020 to become law.
The American Civil Liberties Union of California, the bill’s main sponsor, applauded the Assembly for voting to “advance racial justice and strengthen our democracy.”
“California suppresses black and brown votes by design,” said Brittany Stonesifer, voting rights attorney with the ACLU of California, in a statement. “Through discriminatory policing, incarceration, and felony disenfranchisement, California systemically locks people of color out of the ballot box.”
Other sponsors include California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, League of Women Voters of California and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.
— By Nick Cahill