Should People On Parole Be Allowed To Vote In California?
KPBS Midday Edition Segments / June 29, 2020
This November, California voters will decide whether the state should restore voting rights to nearly 40,000 people on parole for a felony.
Speaker 1: 00:00 Should California bring back affirmative action. And should the state allow people on parole for a felony regained their voting rights? The California Senate has approved putting those two questions on the November ballot. Affirmative action was banned in the state by proposition two Oh nine when Pete Wilson was governor. But with the current climate of awareness about systemic racism advocates, including the Bill's author, San Diego assembly woman, Shirley Webber, believe the time has come to bring it back. The other measure, which would allow parolees to vote may not seem at first like a matter of racial equity, but advocates claim the current band disenfranchises, a disproportionate number of black and Brown voters journey me is Tyena Vargas Edmond, executive director of initiate justice and advocacy group sponsoring the parolee voting bill, which is called ACA six. And Tyena welcome to the program.
Speaker 2: 00:56 Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: 00:57 What are the voting rights now for people who've been incarcerated in California?
Speaker 2: 01:02 Yes. Thank you for that question. Um, that's something that I think that there's a lot of misconception around, so I'm, I'm happy to clarify that. So in the state of California, the only people who are excluded from having the right to vote because of a felony conviction are people who are currently incarcerated in a state or federal prison and people who are on state parole. So people who are incarcerated in County jail, even if it is, we're a felony people who are on probation, even people who are on federal probation, um, and people who have old felonies and are no longer on any form of community supervision have the right to vote.
Speaker 1: 01:39 What ACA six limit the voting rights of parolees based on the severity of their crimes, or would all parolees be allowed to vote?
Speaker 2: 01:47 No, there would not be any exclusions. It would say that once a person has completed their prison sentence, once they are released from custody, they would have their right to vote restored.
Speaker 1: 01:57 How many people on parole would be affected by this measure
Speaker 2: 02:00 Around 53,000?
Speaker 1: 02:02 No, I was surprised to learn of the big difference among States and how they deal with the voting rights of convicted criminals. Apparently a couple of States allow prisoners still serving time in prison to vote while others never give back voting rights to former prisoners. Why is there such a big disparity?
Speaker 2: 02:19 Well, I think that the big disparity probably does come down to racial justice. Um, the two States that never remove a person's right to vote are Maine and Vermont. And those are also, um, the first and second, um, whitest States in the country, their prison populations are, are largely white. Um, and the only state currently where someone, um, loses their can potentially lose their voting rights for life now is Iowa. And, um, their Republican governor has just made a public announcement that she's going to be issuing an executive order to restore voting rights for formerly incarcerated people. So, um, you know, Iowa, which had re had removed voting rights permanently for people and is now led by a Republican governor is even willing to go further than when, where California is now.
Speaker 1: 03:06 What's the rationale behind denying voting rights to people on parole
Speaker 2: 03:11 It's purely punitive. Um, when we've been having conversations with opposition, you know, they'll say, well, these people are quote unquote criminals, and you know, this is what they deserve. They should continue to be punished. Um, but this is something that has actually been very bad for public safety. There are many studies that show that when folks feel more connected to the community, they're less likely to return to prison or jail. Um, the States where they do have, um, more relaxed rules when it comes to voting rights are also States that have lower recidivism rates and initiate justice did a survey last year, more than a thousand people on parole and, and, and in prison. And 75% of the people on parole told us that having their voting rights restored would help them reenter society successfully. So I believe that this is, you know, based in, in, you know, in a culture of punishment and revenge and not rooted in actual public safety.
Speaker 1: 04:10 Why do you think restoring a voting rise for people on parole is a racial justice issue?
Speaker 2: 04:16 I mean, if you look at the history of this country, you know, you can see that people have had their voting rights removed or, you know, have been prevented from voting, um, because of their race or because of their gender. Um, when the 15th amendment passed and the right to vote was given to, um, you know, newly freed black men, uh, the state of California actually didn't ratify the 15th amendment until almost a hundred years later. So I think that, um, in California, we see ourselves as like relatively progressive and, uh, you know, multicultural, multiracial state, but our laws have actually been very limiting when it comes to the civil rights of black and Brown people.
Speaker 1: 04:55 Some of the critics of this voting bill say that taking away voting rights is part of the price criminals have to pay to society. It's part of their sentence, isn't it part of their sentence?
Speaker 2: 05:06 Well, first of all, parole is not part of a person's sentence. Um, and that's something that I want to be really clear about a person's sentence ends the day that they are released from custody. So parole is not an extension. It's not an early release. It's literally community supervision to help people reenter society successfully. So if we want people to be able to reenter successfully, then why would we take away their civil rights and having, you know, the ability to have their voices heard? You know, folks on parole are working, they're paying taxes, they're contributing positively to their communities yet they don't have the ability to have a voice in how their tax dollars are being spent. So, you know what I would ask people who say, well, this is what they deserve, because this is part of their sentence. I would ask why, um, what does voting actually have to do with public safety? You know, people still maintain their citizenship. Um, so why is it that the right to vote is actually taken away? It's something that is nonsensical has nothing to do with public safety and is 100% rooted in the fact that, um, you know, we, as a society do deem some people as deserving and undeserving, maybe that's because of their race or maybe more recently it's because of their conviction history. And we are systematically, um, removing people from the civic process, which is not something that makes sense in a free and fair democracy.
Speaker 1: 06:29 And I want to thank my guest. Tyena Vargas, Edmond, executive director of initiate justice. Thank you so much for speaking with us. Thank you for having me.