California Shouts to Country: No to Discrimination in Voting

As voter suppression laws are struck down throughout the country, California clarifies who can vote with a criminal conviction in the state

SACRAMENTO – Today Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2466 (Weber, D-San Diego), rolling back a discriminatory voting restriction in California that is a carryover from the Jim Crow era, when states made it harder for black citizens and other minorities to register and vote.

“Courts across the country are reversing overtly discriminatory voting laws,” said AB 2466’s author, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. “But while Californians have tended to think such discrimination was “other states’ problems,” voters of color in our state have suffered new restrictions on their right to vote in recent years. I wrote AB 2466 because I want to send a message to the nation that California will not stand for discrimination in voting.”

In the wake of actions by state officials over the past 10 years to limit the right to vote for people sentenced for felony convictions, AB 2466 builds into law recent court decisions affirming the right to vote for people serving a sentence for a low level felony. It settles, once and for all, who can and cannot vote with a criminal conviction in California.

“Many Californians believe that any contact with the criminal justice system means they have lost their right to vote,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. “We can now inform people with conviction histories and the general public about this new law, which will keep as many connected to their communities as possible. Even if a person has a conviction history their family, friends, and community still need him or her to be actively engaged in democracy. We should encourage people who want to re-enter society to fully do so.”

In California alone, three out of every four men in prison are African American, Latino, or Asian American. That means that felony disenfranchisement laws continue to have a much greater impact on voters of color. This disparate impact serves the same basic goal that voter suppression laws created in the post-Civil War Jim Crow era did: to erase the views and electoral wishes of freed slaves and people of color for generations.

“The ongoing confusion about who can vote despite a past conviction means untold thousands of Californians who are eligible to vote are actually excluded from our democracy instead,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D- San Diego), who co-authored the legislation. “AB 2466 guarantees more civic participation, especially in communities of color, and gives election officials new, important tools to uphold the integrity of the voter file and our elections.”

“With the focus on voting restrictions like voter ID laws in other states across the country, the discriminatory voting laws that strip the right to vote from people convicted of a crime are still on the books in 48 states,” said Lori Shellenberger, director of the ACLU of California Voting Rights Project. “By signing AB 2466, Governor Brown sends a message to the nation California wants to be on the right side of history and will continue to work to ensure an inclusive democracy and to improve public safety. When we allow people to exercise their civic duty to vote, we reduce the chance that someone will re-offend and we make our communities safer.”

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