The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday threw its support, on a 4-1 vote, behind a proposition that seeks to restore voting rights to parolees.
The November ballot measure would give U.S. citizens living in California on parole — an estimated 50,000 people — the right to vote. Nineteen other states offer this right to vote, while 10 states never allow individuals convicted of certain felonies to vote again.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas championed the motion, saying that people who have served their time, many of whom are now working and paying taxes, should be given the opportunity to cast a ballot and participate in civic life.
“For individuals rejoining our society after completing a prison sentence, exercising basic rights and responsibilities of citizenship is vital to successful reentry,” Ridley-Thomas said. “At the heart of American citizenship is the right to vote. Congressman John Lewis often called it the most powerful non-violent tool that we have in a democratic society and one of the best forms of ‘good trouble.’”
Ridley-Thomas said voter engagement reduces the likelihood that people commit new crimes.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger cast the dissenting vote. She said she understood the intent of the motion, but felt that giving the vote to individuals on parole would undermine the justice system, which intentionally takes away that right temporarily.
“Let me make it clear. They have not completed their sentence. Parole is an extension of the sentence pending them fulfilling what the courts have ordered them to do outside the prison system,” Barger said. “Voting certainly is a sacred right … Once the sentence is completed, they have paid their debt to society.”
Ridley-Thomas countered, “The very essence of `good trouble is to undermine the status quo.”
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl chimed in, “Amen.”
In a statement issued after the vote, Public Defender Ricardo Garcia said parolees can contribute to their communities through voting.
“Mass incarceration has devastated many communities, in particular communities of color. Taking away the fundamental right to vote is one example of how mass incarceration is designed to perpetuate racial inequities. Restoring parolees voting rights will give them not only a chance at redemption but also add their valued voice back to our communities,” Garcia said.
The founder and president of A New Way of Life Reentry Project, Susan Burton, has been a leading advocate of the measure.
“A New Way of Life has housed thousands of women recently released from California prisons over the last two decades. They obey all laws, work, and pay taxes — but cannot vote,” Burton said. “Voting demonstrates positive citizenship. We want all residents of California to vote in this important election and elections to come.”
Sept. 22nd is National Voter Registration Day.