Skip to main content

Disenfranchisement News: California Expands Voting Rights to an Estimated 60,000 People

September 03, 2015
Read about California's recent felony disenfranchisement reform, Martin O'Malley's call to restore voting rights, and more in our latest Disenfranchisement News.

Disenfranchisement News is a monthly electronic newsletter produced by The Sentencing Project. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

California Expands Voting Rights to an Estimated 60,000 People on Community Supervision

Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that California will restore voting rights to people with felony convictions on community supervision under realignment, reversing his predecessor’s policy.

California’s 2011 realignment act shifts 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 2011, former Secretary of State Debra Bowen instructed county election officials to extend the state’s voting ban to people on community supervision, arguing that voting restrictions shouldn’t change because post-prison release “is labeled something other than parole.” Civil rights groups sued the state on behalf of nearly 60,000 people on supervision. In 2014, a Superior Court ruled Bowen’s interpretation of the realignment act as unconstitutional, and said that the intention of the law was to “introduce felons into the community, which is consistent with restoring their right to vote.” The state was appealing the court’s decision.

Secretary Padilla said his office would not continue the legal appeal and that the decision to expand voting rights was “compelled by conscience.”

Baltimore Rally to Unlock the Vote on 50th Anniversary of Voting Rights Act

Baltimore Unlock the Vote Rally

On the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, supporters gathered in Baltimore for Communities United’s Rally to Unlock the Vote. Delegate Cory McCray, who was arrested several times in his youth, spoke along with almost a dozen formerly incarcerated individuals in protest of Governor Hogan’s veto of the felony voting rights bill. The bill would have restored voting rights to about 40,000 Marylanders on probation or parole. Organizers urged the crowd to gather and demonstrate during the next legislative session, when they hope to push for an override of Hogan’s veto.

Martin O’Malley Calls for Restoration of Voting Rights

Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley recently unveiled his plan for overhauling the criminal justice system, which includes expanding voting rights to people with felony convictions who have reentered society. O’Malley says he will “explore and take advantage of every opportunity to use federal funds and administrative solutions to encourage states to restore voting rights.” As governor of Maryland, O’Malley signed legislation restoring voting rights to 50,000 Marylanders who had completed their prison, probation and parole sentence. O’Malley joins presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, U.S. Senator Rand Paul, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in calling for voting rights restoration for people with felony records.

More Than 22,000 Canadians Behind Bars are Eligible to Vote

Election officials will soon begin distributing voter registration forms to correctional facilities and halfway houses throughout Canada. A 2002 Supreme Court decision gave people in federal prisons and provincial jails the right to vote for a candidate in the district they resided in before they were incarcerated. More than 22,000 people in prison are eligible to vote in Canada’s federal election in October.

On election day, officials are dispatched to each prison and polling stations are set up inside the institutions. Voter turnout was 54% in correctional facilities in the last federal election, not far below the 61% voter turnout in the general population.

Related Posts
April 11, 2022

#SecondChanceMonth: Unlock the Vote

Honoring April as Second Chance Month gives us an opportunity to check in on developments in voting rights and expanding the franchise to incarcerated voters. The Sentencing Project is working regularly with state and local campaigns to expand voting rights to justice impacted voters.
March 16, 2022

Opinion: Nearly 60 years after Voting Rights Act, some voter protections still undermined

Thousands of people in federal custody or who have been released still face roadblocks that prevent them from gaining full access to the ballot box. The Sentencing Project's Keeda Haynes penned an op-ed in USA Today that highlights the importance of universal suffrage.