Prop 17: Restore Voting Rights

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Restoring voting rights to Californians who have completed their prison term is a matter of justice, equity, and fundamental fairness. Right now, nearly 50,000 people who have been released from prison and are on parole are denied the right to vote - a right that is owed to every citizen and important to successful reintegration into the community. Our neighbors who are working, paying taxes, raising families, and rebuilding their lives deserve a voice in the policy-making that shapes their lives. And including their voices will help California achieve a more representative democracy.

Vote YES on Prop 17

League Analysis: 

Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship, and the League, firm in the belief that the strength of our democratic government depends on the active participation of everyone, has long advocated to expand the voting rights of citizens impacted by the criminal justice system.

By initially refusing to ratify the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, California sought to deny both citizenship and the right to vote to African Americans, Chinese Americans and Native Americans. Those foundational amendments became law anyway. But California’s denial of voting rights to people convicted of felonies was enshrined in our first state constitution in 1849. Since then it has functioned as a way to perpetuate systemic racism - denying voting rights to the people most impacted by persistent racial bias in arrest and sentencing. Currently, 75 percent of men leaving California prisons are either African American, Latino, or Asian American. Felony disenfranchisement has served to perniciously dilute the voting strength of communities of color.

Over time, and with League support, our state is slowly expanding the franchise. However, we lag behind nineteen other states and Washington, D.C, which either automatically restore voting rights on release from prison or don’t remove the right to vote at all. Today Californians may vote if they are in county jail, on probation, or on post-release community supervision, but they are still prohibited from voting if they are living in the community on parole. This hodge-podge system, where some people with past felony convictions can vote and others cannot, is both unfair and causes confusion that deters even eligible voters from going to the polls. 

Prop 17 allows Californians who are no longer incarcerated to fully participate in our democracy. Parole is a time of reintegration into society after a prison term is served. Giving people returning home from prison access to civic participation is one of the ways to ensure their successful re-entry into the community. Governmental decisions impact their lives just as much as they impact everyone else’s lives. The opportunity to meaningfully express an opinion through the vote gives people a stake in the decisions made. Blocking their voting rights is fundamentally undemocratic. It means our neighbors who are working, paying taxes, and raising families in this state are deprived of the ability to have a say in the policies and representatives that shape their daily lives. Furthermore, our democracy benefits from the contribution of everyone’s voice at the ballot box.

Paid for by League of Women Voters Supporting Schools and Communities First – Yes on Prop 15 (Nonprofit 501(c)(4))

Related Issues: 

The role of the criminal justice system is to prevent crime and promote public safety. Current research indicates successful systems focus on rehabilitation and support to prevent recidivism. However, some communities experience excessive force and surveillance by the police; other individuals waste away in prisons serving sentences far out of proportion to their offenses. 

voting rights, freethevote, voting, elections, League of WOmen Voters of California, civil rights

The League of Women Voters has been fighting for voting rights for a hundred years. In California, we have spearheaded cutting-edge reforms to make voting more accessible, convenient, and fair.