Can Felons Vote in California Elections?
The short answer is yes, felons can vote in California, but there are some conditions.
California law on felon voting rights has recently changed. On November 3, 2020, California Proposition 17, the Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment, was approved by the people of California. Proposition 17 brought about the effect of restoration of voting rights for all people on parole.
According to the California Secretary of State, the following people cannot register and vote:
Those convicted of a felony crime who are currently imprisoned in a state or federal prison or serving out a state prison sentence in a county jail or correctional facility
Those convicted of a felony crime (not a misdemeanor) who are currently in a county jail awaiting transfer to a state or federal prison
The following people are allowed to register and vote:
On mandatory supervision
On post-release community supervision
On federal supervised release
Why It Matters: Voting Rights and Disenfranchisement
The people who serve in public office and craft our laws hold tremendous power over many aspects of our everyday lives. Sometimes those elected officials represent the views of a majority of their constituents, but sometimes they were elected to office by the slimmest majority of those voting -- and many people didn't vote.
In these close elections, every vote counts!
And yet many American citizens who would like to cast a vote cannot. According to The Sentencing Project, as of 2016, an estimated 6.1 million Americans were forbidden to vote (at least temporarily) because of a past or current felony criminal conviction.
That's about 2.5 percent of the eligible voting population.
African-Americans are overly-represented in this group of disenfranchised citizens (those deprived of the right to vote). Some 7.4% of African Americans cannot vote, many of them in Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.
State Differences in Voter Disenfranchisement
Given the importance of voting to the functioning of a democracy, one might think the U.S. Constitution would include voter safeguards and specify voter eligibility. In a broad sense, it does. Land-owning white men always had the right to vote. Black men gained the right to vote with the 15th Amendment. And women gained the right to vote with the 19th Amendment.
But when it comes to the details of who can be excluded from voting, that was left up to each state to decide. When it comes to the voting rights of felons, state laws vary widely. According to ProCon.org:
Two states (Maine and Vermont) do not disenfranchise people convicted of felony crimes at any time.
In 16 states (Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wisconsin), people can regain their voting rights after completing their prison sentences and probation and parole.
In one state (Louisiana), voting rights are restored after serving prison and parole.
In nine states (Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming), a convicted felon may lose their voting rights permanently depending upon the type of crime and the severity of the offense for which they were convicted, whether it was a first or a repeat offense, the length of time since they completed their sentence, whether they have completed parole or probation and paid any outstanding fines.
In 22 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, and Washington), voting rights can be restored following service of a prison sentence.
In those states where a person could permanently lose their right to vote because of the seriousness of their felony conviction, the most common crimes are those below:
Murder or manslaughter
Rape, sex crimes with children, incest, and other felony sexual offenses
Nonviolent felonies involving "public administration" such as bribery, improper influence, abuse of office, or treason
Mississippi has a much longer list of crimes resulting in disenfranchisement. California has no such list.
Regaining Your Right to Vote
In some states, a citizen's voting rights are restored automatically when they have completed their sentence and paid their fines. In other states, the person must petition for the restoration of their voting rights.
Californians who are eligible to vote must re-register in order to regain their voting rights. You can do so by filling out a paper voter registration card or by re-registering online at RegisterToVote.ca.gov.
If a past criminal charge has kept you from voting and you believe that your voting rights should be restored, a California civil rights attorney may be able to help you.