Frequently Asked Questions
Do people who have completed their prison sentence want to vote?
A recent survey by Initiate Justice of more than 1,000 people in prison or on parole found that people with felony convictions want to vote. Like most Californians, the survey participants identified education, public safety, and economic stability as priority issues. Read the report in its entirety here.
What is parole?
Parole is intended to be a period of reintegration into the community, after someone has completed their prison sentence. California law describes it as a time for developing “positive citizenship.” People who are on parole after completing their prison sentence raise families, hold jobs, pay taxes, and contribute to society in every other way. Restoring a person’s voting rights removes stigma and helps strengthen their connection to the community. While restoring voting rights encourages people to think about their role in society, denying them the right to vote sends exactly the wrong message about their stake in the community.
Is it in the best interest of public safety to restore the right to vote for people who have completed their prison term?
There is no criminal justice purpose for denying voting rights to people who have completed their prison sentence– and criminal corrections professionals agree. Promoting civic engagement not only makes our democracy stronger; it also makes it safer. When people feel that they are valued members of their community, and that their voices matter and concerns are addressed, they are less likely to re-engage in criminal activity. Research has found consistent differences between voters and non-voters after release in rates of subsequent arrests, incarceration, and self-reported behavior. That’s why the American Probation and Parole Association and the Association of Paroling Authorities International support restoring voting rights upon release from prison.
Shouldn’t people have to finish their prison sentences to vote?
People on parole have already finished their prison sentences; parole is a post-sentence period of community supervision while people reintegrate into the community. Californians on all other forms of community supervision are already able to vote in California.
Do other states allow people to vote after they are released from prison?
Yes, 19 other states1 plus the District of Columbia allow a person to vote after they are released from prison. Two of these states (Maine, Vermont) never take voting rights away for people with criminal convictions.
What’s the legislative history on this? Haven’t we already fixed felony disenfranchisement in California?
As California has moved away from overly-punitive laws in recent years, including the passage of the Criminal Justice Realignment Act of 2011, we’ve clarified that people may still vote if they are either in jail, on probation, or on Post-Release Community Supervision at the county level. The most recent legislation on this was AB 2466 (Weber, 2016). Our state constitution, however, still prohibits Californians on parole from voting, even though they have completed their prison term. Expanding voting rights any further for Californians with convictions requires a constitutional amendment, which must be passed by the voters.
What is ACA 6 and how does it relate to Prop 17?
Any changes to the California constitution requires approval from voters. Because California’s constitution prohibits people with felony convictions from voting while they are on parole, Prop 17 must be approved by voters with a simple majority. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 (ACA 6) was the legislative vehicle that put Prop 17 on the November ballot. ACA 6 passed both chambers of the California state legislature with two-thirds votes and bipartisan support. On the ballot, the measure will appear as Prop 17.
How does this compare to policies in other countries?
Approximately half of all industrialized nations do not have any voter disenfranchisement at all. Of those that do, disenfranchisement is almost always limited to a person’s incarceration. In fact, in 2005, the European Court of Human Rights decided that a blanket ban on incarcerated people voting violated the European Convention on Human Rights2.
1. The states are Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Vermont. (https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/voter-restoration/felony-disenfranchisement-laws-map).
2. The Sentencing Project, Felony Disenfranchisement: A Primer, (July 17, 2018), Jean Chung.