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Will CA Allow Ballots Behind Bars?

2/8/2023—Assemblymember Isaac Bryan says it’s time to let California prisoners vote. To be clear, the Culver City Democrat who leads the Assembly election committee, isn’t talking about extending the franchise to people with felonies on their record. California and 21 other states already allow for that. Bryan’s bill, ACA 4, which he introduced as a proposed amendment to the state constitution on Monday, would allow people to cast ballots while they are still in state prisons. Bryan: “Voting reduces recidivism and increases the community connectivity for people upon release…Democracy thrives when everybody has a chance to have their voice heard.” For both supporters and opponents of the idea, it might look like the inevitable conclusion to a decade of California legislation on both voting rights and prison rehabilitation policy: In 2016, lawmakers passed a law allowing people in county jails to vote; In 2020, voters approved Proposition 17, which extended the right to people on parole; From universal vote-by-mail to same-day registration to pre-registration for some teenagers, lawmakers have been on a steady campaign to make it easier for more people to vote; Last year, lawmakers passed a bill that would have allowed certain inmates to relocate to low-security facilities where they would be taught to be self-sufficient and receive job training, à la Norwegian prisons — though Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed it. If Bryan is successful — something that would require approval from at least two thirds of both the Assembly and Senate, then a majority of voters statewide — California would join Vermont, Maine and Washington D.C.

Bryan’s bill is sure to be a heavy political lift. Last year, a proposed constitutional amendment to ban forced, unpaid labor in state prisons failed, lacking support from the Newsom administration, some moderate Democrats in the Senate and all Republicans.

Bryan already knows he won’t be able to count on the support of the election committee’s vice chairperson, Tom Lackey, a Palmdale Republican. Lackey on Twitter: “Criminal acts should have consequences. Voting is a sacred privilege, not an absolute right of citizenship.”

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