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 Nov. 3, 2020, California voters approved Proposition 17, the Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment. Proposition 17 restored 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 may register and vote:

  • On parole
  • On probation
  • 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. Some elected officials represent the views of a majority of their constituents but receive the slimmest majority of those voting. Many people don't vote.

In these close elections, every vote counts!

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 could not vote (at least temporarily) because of a past or current felony criminal conviction.

That's about 2.5% 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.

States may determine who is eligible to vote in each state. State laws can exclude otherwise eligible voters as long as they do not disenfranchise a protected class. When it comes to the voting rights of felons, state laws vary widely. According to

Two states (Maine and Vermont) and the District of Columbia do not disenfranchise people convicted of felony crimes at any time. Individuals may vote from prison or jail.

In Louisiana, citizens may have their voting rights restored after serving prison sentences and parole for at least five years. Formerly incarcerated people on probation or who have completed parole may register to vote.

States where individuals must complete prison and probation or parole:

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

States where voting rights are restored following a prison sentence only:

  • 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
  • Washington

Citizens on probation or parole may register to vote, subject to possible restrictions.

The nine remaining states (Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Wyoming) may disenfranchise convicted felons permanently depending upon the type of crime and the severity of the offense, 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 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

California has no list of crimes resulting in permanent disenfranchisement. Once an individual has completed a prison or jail term, they can re-register and vote in the next election.

Regaining Your Right to Vote

In some states, a citizen's voting rights automatically return when they have completed their sentence and paid their fines. In other states, the person must register or petition for the restoration of their voting rights.

Californians who are eligible to vote must re-register to regain their voting rights. You can do so by filling out a paper voter registration card or re-registering online at

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.

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