Scott v. Bowen



Though all adult Californians have a constitutional right to vote unless they are “imprisoned or on parole for conviction of a felony” or mentally incompetent, California’s former Secretary of State, Debra Bowen, decided that this exclusion should extend to people who are neither imprisoned nor on parole but are on new forms of community supervision created by California’s 2011 Criminal Justice Realignment Act.

In doing so, more than 58,000 California were wrongfully disenfranchised. When the Legislature created these new categories of criminal justice supervision (“mandatory supervision” and “post-release community supervision,” also known by its acronym, “PRCS”), they were seeking to find creative solutions to address California’s bloated incarceration levels, which courts had ordered to be done to end chronic and abusive overcrowding.

The lawmakers determined that community-based alternatives to parole were suitable for people who had been recently incarcerated for low-level, non-serious felonies. These folks are not on parole, which under the legislature’s new rules is reserved for people convicted of more serious crimes. Our analysis is that because people on mandatory supervision and PRCS are not on parole, they have a constitutional right to vote.

Since California voters approved Proposition 10 in 1974, state law has been clear that the only people ineligible to vote in California


On February 2, 2014, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to restore the right to vote to these Californians. The suit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court, charging that a state official should not be able to disenfranchise 60,000 voters with the stroke of a pen.

On May 7, 2014, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled that Secretary of State Debra Bowen illegally stripped tens of thousands of people of their voting rights. His ruling affirmed that people on mandatory supervision and Post-Release Community Supervision are eligible to vote.


The ACLU of Northern California and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties worked on this case together. Co-counsel in this legal action include the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, and Robert Rubin.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of  three individuals and two organizations, All of Us Or None and the League of Women Voters of California.


The trial court issued a decision in our favor on May 7, 2014, holding that the state illegally stripped tens of thousands of people of their right to vote. Then-Secretary of State Bowen appealed, but subsequently was replaced in November 2014 with the current Secretary of State, Alex Padilla.

On August 4, 2015, Secretary Padilla, withdrew the appeal, and in so doing, restored voting rights to thousands of Californians.