Felons in California will now have the right to vote behind bars thanks to AB 2466, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law on Wednesday.
As part of a progressive effort to hasten their transition back into society, thousands of felons in county jail will now be able to take part in California elections.
Under the new law, anyone convicted of a felony, but who is not currently in state or federal prison or on parole, is allowed to vote.
California’s constitution denies the right to vote to anyone in prison or on parole. In 2011, the state’s Realignment Plan shifted many of the state’s corrections program responsibilities to local government. It spurred the transfer of many low-level felony offenders to county-run jails and programs in an effort to reduce overcrowded state and federal prisons and save money.
AB 2466 was borne from a 2014 lawsuit on behalf of those low-level felons who were no longer in state or federal prison. The lawsuit argued the people in county programs shouldn’t be classified the same as other felons, and won.
Upon introducing the bill, Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Brown argued that civic participation would reduce the recidivism rate.
"I wrote AB 2466 because I want to send a message to the nation that California will not stand for discrimination in voting,” she said Wednesday.
Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of The California Endowment, a private health foundation, agreed.
“California is stronger and healthier when more people participate in the electoral process,” he said, reports the Los Angeles Times. “Mass disenfranchisement for minor offenses is a tragic legacy of the Jim Crow era that disproportionately affects and diminishes the power of communities of color.”
But there’s plenty of disagreement—and not just from Republican lawmakers. The California State Sheriffs’ Assn and the California Police Chiefs Assn. opposed the legislation.
“We believe that there have to be consequences to your action, and the consequences of being a convicted felon are that you can’t vote and you can’t possess firearms,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Assn., told the LA Times.
The new law could mean as many as 50,000 new voters in California.