History of Disenfranchisement
Felony disenfranchisement in California is as old as our state itself. Fearing a rise in the political power of Black Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, and Chinese immigrants, California wrote felony disenfranchisement into the state’s first constitution in 1849. Bans on voting for people with past convictions was reinforced by the racially discriminatory Jim Crow laws passed in the 1800s. After the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution banned voting restrictions based on race, many states used criminal convictions—coupled with the intense over-policing of communities of color—as a way to stifle the political power of Black and brown communities. After being the only former free state to initially reject the 14th Amendment extending citizenship to formerly enslaved persons, California also rejected the 15th Amendment in 1870, and did not ratify it until 1962.
Though amended to become less restrictive in the 1970s, our state constitution still prohibits voting for Californians who are “imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.” As California has moved away from overly-punitive tough-on-crime laws in recent years, we’ve clarified that people may still vote if they are in county jail, on probation, or on Post-Release Community Supervision. Our state constitution, however, still blocks Californians on parole from voting, even though they have completed their prison sentence.
The first enslaved people arrive in America
Felony disenfranchisement is written into the first California Constitution
“Laws shall be made to exclude from… the right of suffrage those who shall hereafter be convicted of bribery, perjury, forgery, or other high crimes.” The constitution also specifically bars from voting “those convicted of any infamous crime.”
The 14th amendment is ratified by ¾ states,
which granted citizenship to all persons born or naturalized in the United States—including former slaves—and guaranteed all citizens “equal protection of the laws.
- “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
- California is the only former free state to reject the 14th amendment.
January – California legislature rejects ratification of the 15th amendment.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
March – The 15th amendment officially ratified after 3/4 of state legislatures ratify.
1866 – 1947
California enacts 17 Jim Crow laws between 1866 and 1947
1894: California passes a constitutional amendment that disfranchised any “person who shall not be able to read the constitution in the English language and write his name.”
Congress passes the Civil Rights Act, giving the U.S. Attorney General the authority to bring lawsuits on behalf of African Americans denied the right to vote.
California finally ratifies the 14th amendment, 91 years after becoming the law of the land.
California finally ratifies the 15th amendment, 92 years after being ratified by Congress.
Congress passes the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.
The US Supreme Court rules in a 6-3 decision in Richardson v. Ramirez
that “California, in disenfranchising convicted felons who have completed their sentences and paroles, does not violate the Equal Protection Clause…exclusion of convicted felons from the franchise violates no constitutional provision…”
California voters pass Prop 10 to allow people with felony convictions to vote after incarceration and parole.
Nationally, approximately 1.17 million individuals are disenfranchised due to felony convictions.
3.34 million disenfranchised due to felony convictions nationally
6.1 million disenfranchised due to felony convictions nationally
Governor Jerry Brown signs AB2466, which allows those serving low-level felony conviction sentences in county jails to vote. The bill also restores voting rights to former felons on probation or under community supervision. The bill does not change the voting status of those serving felony convictions in state or federal prisons.
California passes additional legislation (AB1344)
requiring information be provided about voting rights restoration on the internet and in person to people with felony convictions exiting prison.