Photograph: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
On February 14, 2014, The ACLU of California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area (LCCR) filed a lawsuit charging the state of California with unconstitutionally stripping tens of thousands of people of their right to vote.
Since 1974, when California voters approved Proposition 10, state law has been clear that the only people ineligible to vote in California are those who are in state prison or on parole. However, in December of 2011, the secretary of state issued a directive to local elections officials asserting that people are ineligible to vote if they are on post-release community supervision or mandatory supervision. These two categories of supervision were created under California’s Criminal Justice Realignment Act for people recently incarcerated for low-level, non-violent, non-serious crimes. Are these really people that we want to strip the right to vote from? And who makes the decision to do so?
The problem here was that this decision was made unilaterally by the secretary of state through a directive, without the input of millions of California voters. Since December 2011, more than 58,000 have been in local post-release programs according to Michael Risher at the ACLU – this decision will affect each and every one of them. This is something that all California voters should be up in arms about, “The law [in California] clearly establishes a presumption in favor of the right to vote, with only limited and specific exceptions,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Secretary of State unilaterally expanded these exceptions, without any public comment or input, disenfranchising thousands of members of our community and creating confusion around the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people. This unconstitutional disenfranchisement particularly impacts communities of color, who are too often excluded from the democratic process.
Executive Director of All of Us or None, Dorsey Nunn said, “Society is much more secure when all people feel they are fully part of it. If we want formerly incarcerated Californians to be good citizens, we need to convince them that they are a part of society too. I have never met a graffiti artist who spray paints his own home or business.” We agree: if the goal of the realignment law is to reintegrate people back into the community, then disenfranchising those individuals is not only unconstitutional, but goes against the spirit of realignment.
We applaud the efforts of these groups and will be following this case closely on the blog. For those of you who want to read more about the case, a copy of the complaint is available here.