Proposition 17 would reenfranchise California parolees and give them the chance to reintegrate into society if passed in November.
The California Constitution grants voting rights to U.S. citizens residing in the state who are older than 18 and registered to vote, according to the California general election voter guide. If passed, Prop. 17 would amend the constitution by allowing parolees to register to vote if they meet state requirements, giving approximately 50,000 current parolees the right to vote.
Prop. 17 is also expected to impact California fiscally, with “hundreds of thousands of dollars” being invested in voter registration and ballot materials annually, according to the voter guide. The state is also expected to pay an initial investment for registration cards and systems.
“There are a lot of communities where incarceration is just a way of life because they don’t have many options,” said East Bay Young Democrats member Victor Flores in an email. “Restoring the right to vote is one way to provide these kinds of folks an opportunity to participate in their community’s decision-making process.”
According to Flores, current state parolees experience a “lack of hope” of ever being accepted back into society. This hope is also impacted by the lack of housing, job and education opportunities, which he said is “significantly worse” in rural counties in California, Flores said.
Elizabeth Grubb, president of Cal Berkeley Democrats, added that Black and Latinx individuals are both disproportionately incarcerated and disenfranchised by the current state voting restrictions. As Alameda County houses one of the largest prisons in California, the passage of Prop. 17 would make the county’s elections more representative, according to Grubb.
“Family members and parents would be able to vote on basic things like who is on the school board and who is making zoning decisions for city council,” said Alameda County Democratic Party Vice Chair Andy Kelley. “It would franchise more of our voters locally, which we think is a pretty great thing.”
Hugh Bussell, chair of the Alameda County Republican Party, however, opposes the proposition. According to Bussell, the reenfranchisement of previously convicted felons before the completion of their parole would negate the idea that they have fully served their sentence.
Nina Salarno Besselman, executive director and president of Crime Victims United, echoed these thoughts. She said parole is an important part of the sentence and noted that her organization represents the “voices of the victims” affected.
According to California Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Red Bluff, the passage of Prop. 17 would be an “injustice to society,” noting that preventing previously convicted felons from voting until said completion “protects the community.”
“If you complete your sentence, most inmates can then vote, but that means not just serving time in custody but also time in parole,” Nielsen said. “Parole is an adjustment to society, time for them to establish themselves in their community.”