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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 Derek Paul­hus, at paul­hus­d@bren­nan.law.nyu.edu.