Voting Rights

voting rights, restore the VRA, voting, elections, League of WOmen Voters of California, civil rights

Learn more about LWV California's and the National League's position and research on this issue.

State Position
National Position

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The League supports measures that protect every citizen's right to vote and ensure the government's responsibility to protect this right. As a core issue for the League, this is always a priority issue for action.

Latest news: Victory on AB 2466

The League is a cosponsor of AB 2466 (Weber), a bill that codifies a recent court ruling on voter eligibility and clarifies state law regarding the impact a felony conviction has on voting. AB 2466 was passed by the California Legislature on August 16 and signed into law by the Governor on September 28, 2016. It will take effect January 1, 2017.

More info about AB 2466:

Present Law:
The California Constitution provides that persons who are “imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony” are not eligible to register and vote. Courts have consistently interpreted this provision in favor of the enfranchisement of voters, so that only those individuals who are serving a sentence in state prison or are on parole (supervision by the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) are disenfranchised. People on other forms of supervision, such as drug diversion or probation, even a term in county jail as a condition of probation, retain the right to vote.

The 2011 Criminal Justice Realignment Act (CJRA) created three new categories of sentencing for people convicted of certain low-level, nonviolent felonies: mandatory supervision, post-release community supervision, and a term in county jail. These persons are under county, rather than state, control and supervision. However, in late 2011, former Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued a directive to county election officials that otherwise-eligible Californians in those categories were ineligible to vote.

Scott v. Bowen: The LWVC, the nonprofit organization All of Us or None, and three individuals were the plaintiffs in a suit filed by the ACLU of California, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children to challenge the directive as it pertained to persons on mandatory supervision and post-release community supervision. In 2014, an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in our favor, but then-Secretary of State Bowen appealed. However, last year, the new California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, dropped the appeal, restoring voting rights to more than 50,000 Californians.
 
AB 2466:
AB 2466 clarifies the voting rights of persons affected by the 2011 CJRA. It amends the Elections Code to reflect the decision in Scott v. Bowen and clarifies that the third category of CJRA sentencing—a term in county jail—likewise does not make an individual ineligible to vote. The bill:

  • codifies the ruling in Scott v. Bowen by defining “parole” as a term of supervision by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (thus, persons serving terms under realignment are not on parole)
  • defines the term “imprisoned,” for purposes of voting, as serving a state or federal prison sentence
  • clarifies that that a juvenile adjudication is not a conviction and does not bar a juvenile from voting if otherwise eligible
  • clarifies the information that courts are required to transmit to elections officials regarding felony conviction status—to ensure accurate voter file maintenance.

The bill makes no changes in the Penal Code; it simply provides guidance to local election officials and the Secretary of State to ensure the constitutional provision on voter eligibility is applied consistently across the state.

Why Does the League Support the Bill?
AB 2466 guarantees a more inclusive and participatory electorate. Civic participation of all eligible voters is an important way to help individuals reintegrate into their communities and to prevent minorities from being disproportionately disenfranchised due to the racial disparities rampant in our criminal justice system. It has been linked to reduced recidivism.

The LWVC signed the ballot arguments in favor of Proposition 10 of 1974, which placed the “imprisoned or on parole” wording in Article II, Section 4 of the state Constitution. It clarified that felons’ right to vote would be restored when their prison sentences, including time on parole, had been completed

In a 2006 court case, League of Women Voters of California v. McPherson, we successfully sued to affirm that a person confined in county jail as a condition of probation does not lose his or her right to vote.

Other attempts to challenge the 2011 Bowen directive included unsuccessful litigation, All of Us or None et al. v. Bowen et al. In 2013 we were cosponsors of AB 938 (Weber), which attempted to clarify that people sentenced pursuant to CJRA retained their right to vote. The bill did not progress beyond the Assembly Elections Committee and was eventually amended to cover a different subject.

Read our letter supporting AB 2466 and our action alert asking voters to urge the Governor to sign this important bill.