A newly proposed California constitutional amendment, called the “Free the Vote Act,” would return voting rights to the approximately 48,600 Californians on felony parole.
California law currently disenfranchises people convicted of felonies who are serving time in state or federal prison or who are on parole (until parole is completed).
CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), along with criminal justice reform groups announced the proposed amendment (ACA 6) this earlier week.
“Civic participation is foundational to a sense of community—and it can play a major role in reducing recidivism,” Secretary of State Padilla said. “If we are serious about reintegrating the formerly incarcerated into society, we should not be shunning them from democracy.”
California, Padilla said, should continue serving as a model for other states with harsh voter disenfranchisement laws.
At the national level, local and state-level reforms have reinstated voting rights for 1.4 million Americans over the last two decades, according to a 2018 report by the Sentencing Project. Still, approximately 6 million people are barred from voting due to contact with the criminal justice system. Nearly 4.7 million of those people are not in prison, but live in a state that blocks people who are on probation or parole, or who have completed their sentence and community supervision.
Last year, a similar California initiative failed to gather enough signatures to land on the 2018 ballot. That measure would have allowed all citizens living in the state with felony convictions—even those currently in prison or on parole—to vote.
In order to pass, ACA 6, which does not go quite as far as the 2018 initiative, requires a 2/3 majority vote from lawmakers.
“It is time to restore the right to vote for individuals who have served their time.” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). “ACA 6 will eliminate an arbitrary barrier to voting, reduce recidivism and give formerly incarcerated people an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to become productive, contributing members of our society.”
Image by April Sikorski: Voting line for 2008 presidential election in Brooklyn.