LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday threw its support behind a proposition that aims to restore voting rights to Californians on parole with a 4-1 vote. Supervisor Kathryn Barger cast the lone dissenting vote.
Proposition 17 would give U.S. citizens living in California and currently on parole — an estimated 40,000 people — the right to vote. If passed, the proposition would amend the 1974 measure that gave people convicted of felonies the right to vote only after they completed their sentence and were no longer on parole.
Nineteen other states already have a similar law in place, though 10 other states permanently restrict the ability to vote to those convicted of certain felonies.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas championed the motion, saying that people who have served their time — many of whom were actively working and paying taxes — should be given the opportunity to cast a ballot and participate in civic life.
“For individuals rejoining our society after completing a prison sentence, exercising basic rights and responsibilities of citizenship is vital to successful reentry,” Ridley-Thomas said. “At the heart of American citizenship is the right to vote. Congressman John Lewis often called it the most powerful non-violent tool that we have in a democratic society and one of the best forms of ‘good trouble.”‘
Ridley-Thomas also claimed that voter engagement could help reduce recidivism rates, though Barger said she felt giving those on parole the right to vote would undermine the justice system.
“Let me make it clear,” she said. “They have not completed their sentence. Parole is an extension of the sentence pending them fulfilling what the courts have ordered them to do outside the prison system.”
“Voting certainly is a sacred right,” she continued. “Once the sentence is completed, they have paid their debt to society.”
In a statement issued after the vote, Public Defender Ricardo Garcia said those on parole could contribute to their communities through voting.
“Mass incarceration has devastated many communities, in particular communities of color,” he said. “Taking away the fundamental right to vote is one example of how mass incarceration is designed to perpetuate racial inequities. Restoring parolees voting rights will give them not only a chance at redemption but also add their valued voice back to our communities.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)