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Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Endorses Legislation to Expand Voting Rights

Monday, June 20, 2016
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

SACRAMENTO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today announced her support for Assembly Bill 2466, legislation authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), which would ensure state law reflects a recent Superior Court ruling which restored voting rights to individuals serving time under community supervision.  The bill would also expand voting rights to those serving a felony sentence in county jail.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and society, and yet for too long we have stripped certain individuals of that right,” said Attorney General Harris.  “I applaud Assemblymember Weber for her leadership on this issue, because more Californians should be able to fully and meaningfully rebuild their lives, reintegrate into society and participate in our democracy.”

The proposed bill would ensure that individuals on post-release community supervision and mandatory supervision are eligible to vote statewide, codifying a 2014 ruling in the case of Scott v. Bowen, in which the Superior Court of Alameda County found that these individuals retain their voting rights under Section 2, Article II of the California Constitution.  The bill further specifies that a person who is not imprisoned – defined as serving a state or federal prison sentence – or on parole for the conviction of a felony, is eligible to register to vote, effectively guaranteeing that serving a felony sentence in county jail will not strip individuals of their right to vote.

“In our rush to be seen as tough on crime, we have overlooked a fundamental principal of justice in our democracy – fairness in the application of punishments,” said Assemblymember Weber.  “I am grateful for the Attorney General’s support for this legislation. It is significant that the state’s top law enforcement official acknowledges that low-level offenses do not meet the appropriately high threshold for stripping Californians of their Constitutional voting rights.”

In 1976, California ended permanent disenfranchisement and narrowed restrictions on voting eligibility to people currently imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction.  In 2011, following the passage of the Criminal Justice Realignment Act, more than 60,000 Californians were disenfranchised in the wake of an ongoing debate regarding how to interpret the terms “imprisoned” and “parole.”  This debate was put to rest with the ruling in Scott v. Bowen when the Superior Court of Alameda County drew a distinction between the new forms of community supervision and parole.

Attorney General Harris has worked tirelessly to protect the civil rights of all Californians, including former offenders, LGBTQ individuals, undocumented immigrants, and communities of color.

In 2013, Attorney General Harris joined the Attorneys General of Mississippi and North Carolina in a friend-of-the-court brief in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, urging the United States Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, landmark legislation that prohibited states with a history of voting discrimination from wrongfully restricting the right to vote.

In 2015, Attorney General Harris and 19 other Attorneys General submitted a friend-of-the-court-brief in Evenwel v. Abbott, supporting states’ rights to consider total population rather than voter or potential voter population when establishing fair districting polices.

Attorney General Harris has also pioneered programs to combat recidivism and ensure that individuals released from prison or jail are given a chance to become productive members of society.  In October 2013, she created the Division of Recidivism Reduction and Reentry, which has developed a statewide definition of recidivism, identified grants to fund innovative recidivism programs, and used technology to more efficiently gather crucial recidivism data and metrics.

In 2005, then-San Francisco District Attorney Harris created the Back on Track initiative, a reentry program to reduce recidivism among certain low-level, non-violent drug offenders.  The program reduced recidivism among its graduate to less than 10 percent over a two-year period.  As Attorney General, she created a new version of this initiative, Back on Track–LA, an innovative recidivism reduction partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Los Angeles County Probation Department, and other public and private-sector partners.  This comprehensive anti-recidivism initiative works to hold offenders accountable, while preparing them to reenter society as contributing and law-abiding members of their communities.

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