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Should Felons Be Allowed To Vote?

Jul 20 2016, by Jessica McElfresh in Criminal Convictions, Criminal Defense, Felony

Felony disenfranchisement laws remove the voting rights of individuals with felony convictions. Overall, it is estimated that 5.85 million Americans are prohibited from voting due to felony disenfranchisement policies. Disenfranchisement laws vary greatly among the states, but as many as 12 states permanently remove the voting rights of felony offenders even after they have served their sentence and are no longer on probation or parole. Of the 5.85 million, an estimated 2.6 million are in states that permanently restrict voting rights for felony offenders.

History of Felony Disenfranchisement in America

Felony disenfranchisement laws are derived from the common law practice of “civil death,” which was introduced in America by the English colonists. While early colonial laws revoked voting rights for limited offenses, states began expanding the penalty to all felony offenses following the American Revolution. The policy justification for felony disenfranchisement was that felony offenders had violated social norms and were, therefore, unfit to participate in the political process.

Towards the end of the Reconstruction period, felony disenfranchisement laws were used to target African Americans as a means of circumventing the voting rights protected by the Fifteenth Amendment. Today, an estimated 2.2 million African Americans are ineligible to vote despite the fact that more than 40 percent have completed their sentences.

As public opinion shifted away from punitive measures and more towards rehabilitation, there has been a movement to reform felony disenfranchisement laws. Between 1997 and 2016, 23 states have altered their felony disenfranchisement laws to be less restrictive and expand voter eligibility. To date, at least 940,000 people have had their voting rights restored.

California Felony Disenfranchisement Laws

In California, voting rights are restored automatically after an individual has completed their sentence and has been discharged from parole. Individuals who are on probation are permitted to vote. When California passed the Public Safety Realignment Act in 2011, which reduced prison overcrowding by diverting low-level offenders to county jails and community supervision, two new forms of non-custodial supervision were created¬; mandatory supervision (MS) and post-release community supervision (PRCS).

In 2011, Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued an official memorandum declaring that these two newly created forms of supervision were equivalent to parole meaning that individuals subject to MS and PRCS would not be eligible to vote. The ACLU filed suit in 2014 on behalf of the more than 60,000 Californians that were disenfranchised by this interpretation of the law. After a Superior Court ruled that offenders on MS and PRCS are eligible to vote, Secretary of State Alex Padilla withdrew the state’s appeal thereby restoring the voting rights of Californians who are subject to post-release community supervision under Realignment.

California lawmakers recently introduced legislation that would allow convicted felons to vote while incarcerated in county jails. The bill is backed by the ACLU, which estimates that as many as 50,000 inmates will be able to vote if AB 2466 becomes law. AB 2466 passed by a margin of 41-37 in the California Assembly, but it is unclear whether it will pass in the Senate.

A San Diego Criminal Defense Lawyer Can Help

If you believe your civil liberties have been violated, or would like a free consultation with a California criminal defense lawyer, call us today at (858) 756-7107 for a free legal consultation. The experienced attorneys at McElfresh Law will aggressively defend your freedom and provide a straightforward explanation of your legal rights.