Bill to Allow Certain Felons to Vote While Still in Jail Before CA Governor

A bill that would allow convicted felons still serving time in county jails in California to vote is currently before California Governor Jerry Brown.  

Inmates in California county jails would have the right to vote, under a bill passed by the state Legislature. Democratic Senator Holly Mitchell said the bill conforms with a 2014 court decision. . . . A superior court judge ruled felons in county supervision programs can vote, since they're not in prison or on parole. The bill also extends the right to inmates in county jail, who would vote in the district where they're incarcerated. Republican Senator Patricia Bates argued that could improperly influence elections. 

"These individuals who are in that particular jail may have zero connection to any of the issues going on in that city, have no vested interest, or perhaps a negative one," says Bates.

The bill exploits California's definition of prison, as the California Constitution requires disenfranchisement of felons in prison: 

In 1976, voters amended the Constitution to end the permanent disenfranchisement of felons. The California Constitution now reads: The Legislature “shall provide for the disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.” 

With such clear language, you would think that a measure to allow felons to vote behind bars first would have to go before voters as a constitutional amendment. But voters get no say thanks to an unholy alliance of California politicians, California courts and the ACLU. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Realignment Act, which mandated that low-level felons serve their sentences not in state prisons, but in county jails or under county supervision. It was Brown’s clever way of alleviating state prison overcrowding by moving felons to largely overcrowded jails. 

. . . AB2466 would extend voting rights to felons in county jails because they are not called prisons. The legislation “defines ‘imprisoned’ to mean currently serving a state or federal prison sentence.” [Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber] told the Assembly her bill would not change the penal code, but simply serve to “clarify” the law and its “ambiguous terms of imprisonment.” 

[Republican Assemblymember Melissa] Melendez noted, “They’ve exploited the language in the code to suit their own needs.”

Restoring voting rights to felons still serving time, whether in prison (however it is defined) or under penal supervision, is bad policy.  The bill passed the California Senate on a strict party line vote, demonstrating that it is a political tool for the Democrats.  Further, super majorities of the public recognize the folly of this policy and oppose restoring voting rights to felons still incarcerated.