Sacramento, CA - A proposed California initiative to restore voting rights to prisoners and parolees could be on the November 2018 ballot.
The “purpose and intent” of the ballot initiative is to “prohibit the disenfranchisement of voters on the basis they are imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony,” according to the draft legislation submitted by Taina Vargas-Edmond, a lobbyist for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Misdemeanors do not affect voting rights in California, even if the offender is serving jail time.
The estimated cost to the state prison system would be about $1 million a year, to register and give ballots to prisoners and parolees.
The Sacramento Bee estimated the cost to individual counties to be hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In California, residents must be U.S. citizens who are 18 years or older to vote, and cannot be in state or federal prison, or on parole for the conviction of a felony. They also cannot have been found mentally incompetent by a court.
The draft of the ballot initiative states that by enacting the measure, Californians are voting to “uphold the right to vote as fundamental to any democracy.”
Proponents of the initiative have until April 25 to collect the 585,407 signatures, from registered voters, to qualify for the 2018 ballot.
Voting rights laws vary dramatically by state.
In Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while incarcerated, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In 14 states and Washington, D.C., felons lose the right to vote only while incarcerated. Once released, their right to vote is automatically restored.
In nine states, felons must have their voting rights restored by the governor, or by the courts.
California has been sliding down this slippery slope for a while.
In September of 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that allowed thousands of felons in county jails to vote in California elections as part of an effort to speed their transition back into society.
The measure was opposed by the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs' Association.
They argued the state should not be restoring a right traditionally lost when people commit serious crimes until after they leave incarceration, according to the LA Times.
“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,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association.