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Disenfranchisement News: California bill would allow some voting in custody

August 08, 2016
California considers a bill to allow some individuals to vote while in custody, the Virginia Supreme Court overturns Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to an estimated 200,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences, and more in our latest Disenfranchisement News.

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California bill would allow some individuals convicted of low-level offenses to vote while in custody

California’s 2011 Realignment act shifted many people convicted of low-level felonies from overcrowded state prisons to local jails. Individuals finishing their sentences in county jails are on post-release community supervision, and report to county probation officers instead of state parole officers. California law allows people with a felony conviction on probation, but not on parole, to vote. In 2015, Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that the state would restore voting rights to individuals with felony convictions on community supervision under the argument that this population is no longer on parole, but probation.

In response to Secretary Padilla’s decision, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber recently introduced Assembly Bill 2466 to restore voting rights to individuals currently incarcerated for lower level felonies serving time in county jails under Realignment. According to the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, Weber’s bill is based on the argument that these individuals, “while still felons, are now ‘jailed’ instead of ‘imprisoned,’ so for voting purposes we should not view them as felons.”

The bill narrowly passed in the state Assembly; but is getting push back from law enforcement and some Republicans who think the bill is a way to get Democrats more votes. State officials estimate this bill would impact several thousand people.

Legislation in Delaware removes financial barriers to voting for people with felony records

Governor Markell recently signed legislation that would allow most people who have completed their felony sentences to vote before they have paid all their fines and fees. In 2013, the state amended its Constitution to remove the five year waiting period for rights restoration for most offenses, but still required individuals to complete all financial obligations before their rights were restored. “Voting is one of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans, and while everyone should pay up, these financial barriers should never be a reason individuals are unable to participate in our democracy,” said Gov. Markell. “I’m proud to sign this legislation to enable more individuals to become full members of their communities, and to build on our efforts to have more ex-offenders become productive citizens when their sentences end.”

People on felony probation and parole sue Louisiana for voting rights

A New Orleans based advocacy group, Voice of the Ex-Offender, and several formerly incarcerated individuals, have filed a class action lawsuit to restore voting rights for an estimated 70,000 Louisianans on felony probation or parole. The lawsuit’s claim that these individuals are being unconstitutionally stripped of their voting rights is based on Louisiana’s 1974 Constitution, which restricts voting for people “under an order of imprisonment,” not those on probation or parole. Two years later, the state changed the law to extend the ban on voting to individuals released on probation and parole. The lawsuit, however, cites minutes from the 1973 convention that drafted the Constitution, which shows “language intended to deny the vote to people on probation was rejected,” reports the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The lawsuit names Gov. John Bel Edwards and Secretary of State Tom Schedler as the defendants.

Virginia Supreme Court strikes down Gov. McAuliffe’s order to restore voting rights to 200K people en masse

The Virginia Supreme Court overturned Governor Terry McAuliffe’s executive order that would have restored voting rights to an estimated 200,000 Virginians who have completed their sentences. In a 4-to-3 ruling, the Court agreed with state Republicans that Gov. McAuliffe had exceeded his authority under the Commonwealth’s constitution when he restored voting rights en masse instead of individually. Gov. McAuliffe released a statement after the ruling saying he will expeditiously sign the 13,000 individual voting rights orders for those who had their rights restored and registered to vote, and he will keep signing until he has completed restoration for all 200,000 Virginians. “My faith remains strong in all of our citizens to choose their leaders, and I am prepared to back up that faith with my executive pen,” said Gov. McAuliffe. “The struggle for civil rights has always been a long and difficult one, but the fight goes on.”

Group calls on Nigeria to prepare prisons to facilitate voting in next general election

In an open letter to several high ranking Nigerian officials, Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants – Nigeria (CURE-Nigeria) urgently called upon the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to comply with a court order and take steps to prepare prisons throughout the country to participate in the next general election. In 2014, a Federal High Court upheld the rights of incarcerated Nigerians to vote in all elections, yet INEC has still not complied with the ruling. “Voting by prison inmates, besides being their rights, has a tremendous rehabilitation and re-entry value,” said CURE-Nigeria’s Executive Director, Sylvester Uhaa. “We hope that Nigeria will join many countries such as South Africa, Ghana, Kenya and others to restore the right to vote to people in prison.”

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