The United States was built on the foundation of democracy: a government which the people govern themselves through voting. Unfortunately, California deprives several individuals of this right.
In California, formerly incarcerated individuals who have been convicted of a felony are not permitted to vote until they serve their prison sentence and complete parole. Because of this, approximately 50,000 Californians are disqualified from voting while on parole.
Although the crimes of incarcerated individuals deserve serious consequences, depriving them of their right to vote is unethical and creates a larger barrier for them to re-enter their community successfully.
In 1974, California voters amended the Voting Rights Act of 1965, restoring the right for convicted felons to vote as soon as they complete their parole. Nonetheless, the rights of formerly incarcerated Californians are still affected, further damaging their futures as citizens as well as their self-image.
The stigma around individuals who have committed felonies denies them the hope that they could offer more to society than the crimes they’ve committed. Without sufficient rehabilitation and support from prison institutions and the government, far too many individuals are thrown into a cycle of incarceration and release.
Offering newly released citizens the right to vote for propositions and political leaders allows them to believe they can be contributing members of society.
To further amend the voting rights for former felons, this year’s California ballot has introduced Proposition 17. This proposition aims to amend the California Constitution to reinstate the right for felons to vote once they complete their prison term. If the proposition passes, it will make California the 19th state, including the District of Columbia, to allow parolees to vote.
Voting yes on Proposition 17 will prevent discrimination against individuals with criminal convictions, especially during a time when they are supposed to be rehabilitating and reintegrating into society.
Since parolees are required to resume other civic responsibilities, such as paying taxes and participating in jury duty, it is only fair to give them the right to vote. Forcing someone to pay taxes while prohibiting their voting rights is taxation without representation.
Opponents of the ballot measure claim that it will grant violent criminals the right to vote before finishing their full sentence and paying their debt to society while also denying justice to crime victims.
Despite their objections, parole is specifically meant to serve as a readjustment period where it allows the individual to redeem themselves and prove that they are ready to be an upstanding citizen.
An individual is considered to have completed their sentence as soon as they are released into their parole period, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The prison term and parole period are two separate phases and are not to be considered one continuous period.
If a convicted felon has served their sentence and the court deems them eligible for parole, they should not continue to be penalized during their period of rehabilitation and growth.
Victims of violent crimes have every right to heal from the experiences they faced.
In an effort to better the rehabilitation period, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation permits the victims to request special conditions of parole. This allows the victims to have some control over the restrictions and their terms of parole.
This proposition does not guarantee that all convicted felons will vote, but it is giving them the same right the rest of the population has.
When filling out the ballot in the next couple weeks, vote yes on Proposition 17 and restore a citizen’s right to vote once they complete their prison term.
Do not allow the continuation of disenfranchisement and discrimination against those with criminal convictions.
Every voice in a democracy matters regardless of the choices each individual has made.