Claim No Easy Victories! Important Ruling on Voting Rights in California

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By Dorsey Nunn

Democracy functions best when the largest number of citizens possible participate, including formerly incarcerated people – All of Us or None has been campaigning for voting rights for 10 years now. So it’s good news that an Alameda County judge ruled last month that people on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and mandatory supervision are eligible to vote.

LSPC, the ACLU of California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit in February charging California Secretary of State Debra Bowen with unconstitutionally stripping tens of thousands of people of their right to vote. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of three people who have lost or will soon lose their right to vote, along with All of Us or None and the League of Women Voters of California.

It alleged that Bowen violated state law with her December 2011 directive asserting that people are ineligible to vote if they are on PRCS or mandatory supervision – two new and innovative community-based alternatives to parole created under California’s Realignment Act for people recently incarcerated for low-level, non-violent, non-serious crimes.

We firmly maintain that all formerly incarcerated people should retain their right to vote! For that matter, people who are currently in both jails and prisons should be able to vote as well, as they do in Maine and Vermont. That is still our long-term struggle.

When we ask for the right to vote, the average person thinks it means voting for them. They can’t imagine we might want to vote for ourselves! They can't imagine that we are demanding full citizenship. So this is a far more expansive and self-determining fight than many people realize.

We are claiming no easy victories however, because the state is now appealing this ruling. But if it stands, up to 20,000 formerly incarcerated people will now have the right to vote. Either way, we will continue our struggle until everyone, regardless of their involvement with the punishment system, can vote.