California Voters Pass Prop 17, Granting Formerly Incarcerated Individuals the Right to Vote

By Noa Prados 

With Proposition 17 passing, which gives individuals currently on parole for past felony convictions their right to vote, many American citizens with felony sentences are now once again able to have a say in their local, state and federal elections.

Natalie Abrahams discussed a growing trend seen nationwide after California’s restoration of felon voting rights in her article for NBC News. Abrahams mentions Earlonne Woods, who recently had his voting rights restored within the state of California after being granted clemency by California State Governor Gavin Newsom.

Abrahams reveals that Woods’ parole ended recently on Sep. 23, 2020, and he would later register to vote that very night. The article discussed multiple statistics, including the fact that nearly 50,000 individuals on parole regained their right to vote following Proposition 17’s passage. This is a significant number of possible counted votes, which could greatly impact the result of a federal election.

Abrahams also discusses a report released by The Sentencing Project in 2016, finding that “while Black disenfranchisement varies greatly from state to state, in four states – Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia – one in five African Americans don’t have voting rights.”

The notion that the efforts made to restore voting rights for felons is a racial one is also included in Abrahams’ article, with the supporting evidence that the California Initiative Review on Proposition 17 reported racial disparities within California’s parole system. Abrahams highlights that even though black people make up a mere six percent of the population, they make up 26 percent of the state’s parole population.

The Associated Press discussed several opponents of restorative justice in the form of restoring incarcerated felons’ right to vote in an article for KPBS. The article mentions Republican state Senator Jim Neilsen’s perspective on the issue. Nielsen argues that the restoration of felons’ right to vote is “a slap in the face to their victims,” and that their right to vote should not be reinstated.

The contrasting perspective of John Windham, who is currently on parole following a 30 year sentence for second-degree murder, is offerred within the article as well. Windham feels that parole should not entail further punishment, but rather, it should be intended as the time period for convicted felons to reintegrate themselves into society and their communities.

The article further discusses Windham’s stance on this issue when illustrating that he is a tax paying citizen, and therefore he deserves to have his voice heard by his government if his government is going to take his money.

Research conducted by Yes On 17, an advocacy group for Proposition 17, is also discussed in the article. This research by Yes On 17 indicates felons are actually less likely to succumb to recidivism (the event in which a previously incarcerated felon re-engages in criminal activity) if they feel that their voice matters, and their perspective on societal interaction is heard.

Michael Lozano and Isabella Fertel discuss the pandemic’s impact on legal voting from California jails in their article for Cal Matters. It is mentioned that in addition to many incarcerated people being unaware that they can vote, or are perhaps misinformed about eligibility, the pandemic has further complicated efforts made to overcome these barriers. 

The article discusses the process for those eligible to vote who are currently on parole, which includes requesting a registration form from an administrator within a given parolee’s unit. 

Then, parolees must register to vote by mail and use their jail’s address as the main mailing address. It is mentioned, however, that even when registered, “there is no guarantee they will receive a ballot.”

The article highlights the Office of Women’s Policy in Santa Clara County, which faced an obstacle with the COVID-19 pandemic with their attempts to educate incarcerated individuals about their voting rights and how to go about participating in their local, state and federal elections. 

While the work of advocacy groups does indeed assist in educating incarcerated individuals’ about their right to vote, there is much more work to be done in regard to banishing the stigma attached to individuals with felony convictions.

Noa Prados is a fourth year undergraduate student at UC Davis, currently studying Sociology with an emphasis in Law and Society. He has been a writer on the Social Justice Desk for the Davis Vanguard at UC Davis since September 2020.

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