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Proposition 17: Free the Vote for Californians on Parole

Posted by Sara Cooper | Jul 05, 2023 | 0 Comments

Voting rights for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals has always been a fight to obtain and improve. It varies by state, but in California, those who have completed their parole can be given back the right to vote. However, what about those who are currently on parole? How does their position in society impact voter democracy and election results?

For most of California's history, the right to vote wasn't even a possibility for those convicted of a felony, they were never permitted to vote again. Later in 1974, California passed Proposition 10, which extended the right to vote for individuals who had completed their parole term. Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty is the one who had written and introduced Proposition 17, and this legislature was mostly backed up by Democrats. Those who are on parole does not indicate that they are people who are not in prison, and the punishment they have already endured should not also mean that their rights deserve to be in jeopardy.

Passing in November 2020, the prop removes the restriction from the California Constitution that denies people on parole the right to vote and those serving a prison sentence. California is the 18th state to do this. 50,000 people in our state will now be able to vote for elections of all levels, and it allows more people of color to be involved in our electoral process with Black people making up 26% of parolees in California according to the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association.

The pros of granting people on parole the right to vote include an array of benefits for all constituents: Making our democracy fairer and more inclusive, voting for leaders that actually represent our communities, higher civic engagement and less criminal activity, a great step into reintegrating back into the outside world as its difficulties of assimilation are mentally and financially straining. These positives contribute to further protections and less restrictions of constitutional rights for prisoners.

The simplicity of voting for any American citizen that is a part of any marginalized community is never simple. Automatic restoration does not apply to voter registration, and prison officials should be informing prisoners that their right to vote has been restored. This expansion of eligibility needs to be informed by those that are involved in a legal profession for credibility and effective support. Public defenders, voter advocacy organizations, and criminal justice reform groups are also key players in educating those in prison about the recently passed law along with assisting them in registering to vote. In the State of California, it is required that formerly incarcerated people are provided with voter registration information. Much hope that this is the same applied under Proposition 17.

Voting is a public safety strategy that values community reintegration. The Sentencing Project mentions a great point that emphasizes the humanization of people on parole: “These individuals are working and paying taxes. They are caregivers. They raise children. Yet, because they cannot vote, they do not have a voice in everyday laws and policies that affect their lives. Excluding people from participating in democratic life is an additional punishment. Civic engagement, including the right to vote, plays an important role in successful reintegration.”

The criminal legal system was the reason why many impacted individuals became incarcerated, and their role in helping reintegrating should expand in assisting those on parole to register and be informed on what to vote for. A right to vote is not a privilege, including for those who can now vote when not before.

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