Just in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, a legal team comprised of various rehabilitation and reentry organizations has triumphed in returning the right to vote to 50,000 men and women who are under mandatory supervision!
A little bit of background: The California Constitution disenfranchises felons who are "imprisoned or on parole". In League of Women Voters of California v. McPherson, the First District Court of Appeal ruled that these categories did not include people who were in jail as a consequence of violating felony probation. After Realignment, thousands of non-serious, non-violent, non-sexual felons were sentenced to jail terms. A prior litigation effort on their behalf was unsuccessful (though we raised some important questions that were left unanswered.)
The current litigation effort was more modest, but also perhaps more realistic, seeking to restore the right to vote not to all realigned felons, but only to those under mandatory supervision. Folks under supervision serve time on the outside, under conditions strongly resembling probation. The prospective voters' advocates were successful on the first round. The former Secretary of State appealed, and just as the parties were ready to go forward, the current Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, withdrew his appeal, with the outcome that voting is restored. And here's what Secretary Padilla had to say--here at CCC we wholeheartedly concur:
“Passage of the Voting Rights Act was not easily won,” Secretary Padilla said. “People marched. People struggled. People died. They bravely sacrificed for each other – for friends, family, for our country so that each of us could be empowered with the opportunity to participate meaningfully in our democracy.”
“Civic engagement and participation in the election process can be an important factor helping former offenders reintegrate into civil society. 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. Voting is a key part of that engagement; it is part of a process of becoming vested and having a stake in the community,” Padilla added.
“The United States Supreme Court eloquently proclaimed, “No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined.”
“Our California Supreme Court has made similar pronouncements: “No construction of an election law should be indulged that would disenfranchise any voter if the law is reasonably susceptible of any other meaning.”
“Today’s announcement is in line with these statements, the arc of California history, and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act,” Padilla said.
See you at the ballot, fellow Californians!