Rocking the Vote in the Post-Realignment Era

On September 28, 2016, Governor Brown signed AB 2466, a bill that will allow thousands of felons in county jails and under county supervision to vote in California elections. Under the new bill, anyone convicted of a felony, but who is not currently in state or federal prison or under the supervision of state parole, will be allowed to vote.

The bill came in response to Realignment and Scott v. Bowen, a 2014 lawsuit brought on behalf of low-level felons who argued that people who were transferred to county jail or county probation should not be classified the same way as other felons sent to state prison. A state court judge in Alameda had sided with plaintiffs, stating that Secretary of State Debra Bowen erred when she issued a memo stating that county supervision was the functional equivalent to parole and stated that those individuals could not vote.

Last month, California hit a record of more than 18.2 million registered voters, with a surge of another 370,000 who registered during the last stretch of September. That means 75 percent of the state’s eligible voters are ready to cast a ballot—the highest rate in a presidential election year since 1996. This new law could add as many as 50,000 new voters in the state.

Supporters of the bill argued that clarification was necessary to bring the state into compliance with the 2014 lawsuit. They also state that “Civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism.”

The bill was opposed by many law enforcement groups, including the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, who argued the state should not be restoring a right traditionally lost when people commit serious crimes, particularly while they are still incarcerated and have not yet repaid their debt to society.

Hillary and Trump supporters in county jail will, however, have to sit out this November’s election. The bill does not go into effect until January 1, 2017.

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