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.
- 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.
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
- California Voters Approve Prop. 17, Restoring Voting Rights to People Who Have Completed Prison Terms (November 4, 2020)
- California Voters Will Have the Chance to Restore Voting Rights to Tens of Thousands, Patrick Berry and Stuart Baum (June 25, 2020)
- Letter in Support of ACA 6 from Sean Morales-Doyle (August 13, 2019)
- Letter in Support of ACA 6/AB 646 from Sean Morales-Doyle (May 3, 2019)
- California Changes Course and Restores Voting Rights, Vishal Agraharkar (August 4, 2015)
- Scott v. Bowen Case Tracker
- Restoring the right to vote for 50,000 Californians, Jose Grano Gonzalez, Los Angeles Daily News (October 31, 2020)
- Vote “Yes” on Prop. 17 and restore voting rights to 50,000 California citizens, Betty McKay, San Francisco Examiner (October 30, 2020)
- Vote “Yes” on Prop 17 and restore voting rights to 50,000 California citizens, Veronica Hernandez, El Tecolote (October 30, 2020)
- Yes on Prop. 17, George Eskin and Tom Parker, Santa Barbara Independent (October 30, 2020)
- Opinion: Prop. 17 Will Restore Voting Rights to 50,000 Reformed Californians, Niki Martinez, Times of San Diego (October 29, 2020)
- Opinion: Vote yes on Prop. 17, restore voting rights for parolees, John Windham, The Mercury News (October 16, 2020)
- California Voters to Decide on Restoring Affirmative Action, Allowing Parolees to Vote, Katie Orr and Guy Marzorati, KQED (June 24, 2020)
- What Would ‘Systemic Change’ Look Like? California’s Black Lawmakers Have Some Ideas, Nicole Nixon, CapRadio (June 3, 2020)
- Parolees Could Potentially Vote in California Under Proposed Bill, CBS 13 Sacramento (January 31, 2020)
- Everyone Deserves the Right to Vote — Including Parolees. California Can Lead the Way, George Gascón and David Muhammad, The Sacramento Bee (August 26, 2019)
- Panel Okays Voting Rights for Former Prisoners, Parolees, Nahima Shaffer, Capitol Weekly (June 20, 2019)
- California Could Allow More Felons to Vote, in Major Shift, Paige St. John, L.A. Times (August 4, 2015)
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 Derek Paulhus, at firstname.lastname@example.org.