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Prop. 17, which will let parolees vote in California, is approved by voters

Voters approve Proposition 17, giving Californians who are on parole from prison the right to vote.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Californians convicted of felonies but who are on parole will be allowed to vote in elections under Proposition 17, a ballot measure that won approval by state voters Tuesday.

The measure restores the vote to some 50,000 parolees by changing the state Constitution, which disqualifies people with felony convictions from voting until their incarceration and parole are completed.

Proposition 17 was supported by 59% of voters, according to the unofficial tally.

The initiative’s supporters include the California Democratic Party; Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president; and Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), who authored the measure.

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“Prop. 17 gives Californians the chance to right a wrong and restore voting rights for a marginalized community and people of color,” McCarty said. “This is good for democracy and good for public safety.”

Opponents include the California Republican Party and state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), who called Proposition 17 an “affront” to victims of crime.

“They deserve to see justice done,” Nielsen said, adding that those convicted of felonies “should serve ... just time for the sentence, and that includes the parole period.”

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The measure was placed on the ballot by the California Legislature at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement was sparking new discussion of the impact of the criminal justice system on people of color.

Three out of 4 men leaving California prisons are Black, Latino or Asian American, according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, a fact the Proposition 17 campaign says is a result of persistent and systematic racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

The approval of Proposition 17 is a “victory for democracy and justice,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, executive chair of the Yes On Prop 17 campaign and co-founder and executive director of Initiate Justice. “For far too long, Black and brown Californians have been excluded from our democracy. Today, California voters definitively righted a historic wrong.”

Under Proposition 17, people convicted of felonies who are still in prison will continue to be disqualified from voting. The state Constitution allows people on probation to vote.

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Nineteen states allow voting by people convicted of felonies who are on parole. Maine, Vermont and the District of Columbia allow those convicted of felonies to vote while incarcerated.

California previously extended voting rights to people in county jails.

Election 2020: Slavery is on the ballot in Utah and Nebraska, and a gig-economy showdown in California is among the key ballot initiatives voters will decide on Nov. 3.

There was no organized campaign committee opposing Proposition 17, while supporters, including Secretary of State Alex Padilla, raised more than $1.3 million for their campaign.

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“Today, in California there are 50,000 women and men who have completed their state prison sentence, are reintegrating back into society, working jobs and paying taxes, but are denied the right to vote,” Padilla said. “Yet research shows that in jurisdictions where voting rights are more easily restored, formerly incarcerated individuals re-offend at lower rates.”

Among people who had been arrested previously, 27% of nonvoters were rearrested, compared with 12% of voters, according to a 2004 study by Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, sociology professors at the University of Minnesota and New York University, respectively.


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