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Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in California

California voters approved a statewide ballot measure restoring the right to vote to as many as 50,000 Californians on parole.

Last Updated: November 4, 2020
Published: June 30, 2020

On November 3, 2020, nearly 60% of California voters approved Proposition 17, amending the state’s constitution to automatically restore voting rights upon release from prison.

Disenfranchisement in California

Prior to Proposition 17, California’s constitution prohibited people with felony convictions from voting while they were in prison or on parole. As a result, as many as 50,000 Californians living in the community were barred from voting because of a past conviction. The disenfranchisement of people on parole had a disparate impact on communities of color because of racial discrimination in the state’s criminal justice system. In addition, California was one of only a handful of states that allowed people on probation to vote, but not people on parole. California’s constitution now only prohibits people with felony convictions from voting while they are in state prison.

Legislative Efforts

  • In 2020, the state senate voted to put ACA 6, a state constitutional amendment that would re-enfranchise eligible California voters on parole, on the ballot for the November 2020 election. ACA 6 appeared on the ballot as Proposition 17 and was approved by voters on November 3, 2020. The state senate also approved AB 646, which will bring the state’s election code into alignment with Proposition 17. The Brennan Center was an executive member of the “Yes” on Prop 17 campaign.
  • In 2019, the state assembly passed ACA 6. The state assembly also passed AB 646. The Brennan Center submitted letters of support for both ACA 6 and AB 646.
  • In 2016, the state legislature passed AB 2466, which narrowly defined parole and restored voting rights for anyone on any other form of supervision, expanding voting rights restoration in the state to the constitutional limit.

Litigation

In 2015, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in support of the plaintiffs in Scott v. Bowen, who had been disenfranchised by then California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s decision to reclassify forms of post-conviction felony non-custodial supervision as “functionally equivalent to parole.” Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who succeeded Bowen, ultimately dropped the state’s appeal, re-enfranchising all the voters who were disenfranchised by Secretary Bowen’s action.

Brennan Center Materials

Press

Brennan Center Publications

  • Restoring the Right to Vote, Erika Wood (2009) The Brennan Center’s policy proposal for restoring voting rights for citizens with past criminal convictions.
  • My First Vote (2009) Testimonials of individuals who regained their voting rights after being disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions.
  • De Facto Disenfranchisement, Erika Wood & Rachel Bloom (2008) A report on how complex laws, poorly informed officials, and misinformation lead to the de facto disenfranchisement of citizens with past criminal convictions who are eligible to vote.
  • Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History, Erin Kelley (2017) A piece examining the historical roots of criminal disenfranchisement laws that today strip voting rights from millions of U.S. citizens.

For more information about the Brennan Center’s work on Restoring Voting Rights in California, please contact Stuart Baum, at stuart.baum@nyu.edu.