This past Wednesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will allow felons to vote in the California elections. It is all part of an constructive effort to aid California felons' transition back into society. The new bill could add 50,000 new voters and a voice from behind bars.
Under the new bill, anyone convicted with a felony can vote with the exception of those currently in state or federal prison or on parole. California's constitution bans anyone in state or federal prison or on parole from voting. A realignment plan five years ago sent some low-level felons to county jails. Low-level felons in county-run jails will be among those given the opportunity to vote.
The bill was written by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and State Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Culver City). “Civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism,” Weber said after the bill was introduced. Voting is one of the many ways convicted felons can acclimate back to domestic life.
Following a 2014 lawsuit, a judge ruled that felons in county programs should not be categorized the same way as other felons. The new bill arrives as a response to the 2014 lawsuit. The American Civil Liberties Union criticized the way felons are treated and called them a “Relic of Jim Crow", as tragically, people of color disproportionately fill California's prisons. Worse still, prisons were historically a mechanism to sweep minorities under the rug.
With the possible addition of 50,000 new voters, it could potentially lead to a toss-up in future California elections. Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) called the bill “very disappointing.”
The California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association flipped when they heard the news. “We believe that there have to be consequences to your action, and the consequences of being a convicted felon are that you can’t vote and you can’t possess firearms,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, warned the Los Angeles Times.
The new law goes into effect in 2017.