73,000 felons to have their voting rights restored as California drops appeal

The State of California has dropped an appeal of a court ruling that restored voting rights to 73,000 felons.

From Reuters:

The announcement by Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, effectively extends voting rights to 73,000 former prisoners who had been released to the supervision of local probation departments under a program to reduce crowding in the state’s massive prison system.

“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism, we need to engage – not shun – former-offenders,” Padilla, a Los Angeles Democrat, said in remarks posted on his official website. “Voting is a key part of that engagement.”

Under California law, citizens convicted of felonies have their voting rights restored once they have completed their sentences and parole. The 73,000 citizens affected by today’s decision had been released from prison without parole, but had remained under the supervision of country probation departments.

Register, via Shutterstock

Register to vote, via Shutterstock

These citizens were being denied their right to vote in part due to confusion over the recent prison realignment program implemented by Governor Jerry Brown, which moved many non-violent and low-level offenders out of state prisons and into county jails, which was itself hailed as a modest step in the right direction in reforming California’s criminal justice system. The state interpreted these prisoners, once released and under the supervision of the probation departments, as being on parole. The ACLU sued, and the courts disagreed. By dropping the state’s appeal, Secretary Padilla has signaled that the courts were right.

Given the fact that America’s prison population is disproportionately low-income and minority, mass incarceration and felon disenfranchisement amount to major distortions of American democracy. If making it harder for ex-felons to vote didn’t affect one party more than the other, Republican governors wouldn’t be doing it.

Under a Rawlsian veil of ignorance, reasonable people would agree that felons who have served their time and paid their debt to society should have all of their rights fully restored, including and perhaps especially voting rights. This decision from Secretary Padilla isn’t much by itself, but it suggests growing support for voting rights and criminal justice reform nationally.

And for the 73,000 people who can now register to vote again, it’s obviously great news.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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4 Responses to “73,000 felons to have their voting rights restored as California drops appeal”

  1. wesh says:

    In CA all felons can vote once their sentence is up. Parolees are technically still prisoners in state custody. Probationers are not.

  2. Hue-Man says:

    “Canadians who will be 18 years of age or older on polling day and who are
    in a correctional institution or a federal penitentiary in Canada may vote
    by special ballot in an election or referendum.” http://www.elections.ca/content.aspx?section=vot&dir=bkg&document=ec90545&lang=e

    I still don’t understand the American policy except as a means of ensuring that prisoners are never rehabilitated! If the goal is for them to complete their sentence and return to their pre-prison life, staying involved in the political life of their community would seem to be a no-brainer.

    What’s the worst that could happen if a prisoner voted in an election? Democracy has more to fear from billionaires buying elections and citizens failing to exercise their right to vote.

  3. Indigo says:

    Good! Citizens voting is essential to maintaining the democracy. Perhaps I should re-phase that to say, restoring the democracy.

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