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Voting after prison release remains difficult proposition


New findings from Sentencing Project

Making mistakes in life, regardless of the reason, has consequences that could follow you and affect the rest of your life. Being a convicted felon can severely limit your options as a US citizen, and depending on the ramifications of the conviction, it can limit your ability to exercise certain rights and freedoms that other US citizens have. One of those rights is the ability to vote on a local or federal level in California. 

As of today, there are over 97,000 Californias who have lost the right to vote while serving a prison term for a felony conviction  – a result of California’s constitution. Because of its high incarceration rate, California’s disenfranchisement rate ranks second highest in the region among states that only exclude imprisoned people from the ballot. According to the data from The Sentencing Project report, California ranked second behind Oregon in states that exclude their citizens from voting. The voting ban also highlights the racial injustice that the Black community faces compared to other ethnic groups. 

Per the reports, eligible Black Californians are ten times as likely as whites to lose their right to vote due to serving a prison sentence for a felony conviction. The disenfranchisement rate of California’s voting-eligible Latinx population is more than three times that of the white voting-eligible population. This information subsequential goes against California's policy of being a state where "all political power is inherent in the people." Black Californians make up only 5% of the state’s general population, but 28% of individuals incarcerated in state prisons.

Other evidence of racial injustice in the California justice system shows in the sentencing aspect as Black California are over-represented among people serving the longest sentences. For example, more than 45% of individuals with three-strike sentencing enhancements were Black. According to research by UC Berkeley’s California Policy Lab. As of 2022, half of all people incarcerated under the three-strike law have been incarcerated for more than 20 years.

A few solutions researchers have suggested to increase equal voting rights is to give the ability to vote back to the previously incarcerated. " The act of voting can have a meaningful and sustaining positive influence on justice-impacted citizens by making them feel they belong to a community." One researcher said that people could feel like outsiders in their native state when their rights are taken away from them. "Having a say and a stake in the life and well-being of your community is at the heart of our democracy."

Another option is the Re-enfranchisement of the previously incarcerated, which could help facilitate successful re-entry and reduce recidivism. Researchers suggest having the right to vote immediately after incarceration matters for public safety, as individuals in states that continued to restrict the right to vote after incarceration were found to have a higher likelihood of experiencing a subsequent arrest, compared to individuals in states that had their voting rights restored post-incarceration.