ACA 4 would allow CA
prisoners right to vote
This year, advocates for reform want to make voting in prison a reality for incarcerated people, who have been disenfranchised for years.
Assembly Constitutional Amendment 4, authored by Assemblyman Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles), could give voters an opportunity to remove a part of California’s constitution that specifically disqualifies people serving time in state or federal prison from voting.
“Disenfranchisement of incarcerated people does nothing to improve the safety of our communities or encourage rehabilitation,” Bryan said on the steps of the state capitol. “All the data shows us that voting reduces recidivism and increases community connectivity for people …”
In 2020, the voting rights of formerly incarcerated people serving time on probation and parole were restored. Proposition 17 restored voting rights to approximately 50,000 people. This new proposal could restore the voting rights of over 90,000.
Thanh Tran is a former resident of San Quentin and an employee at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He was part of a group that helped develop policy before he was released 10 months ago. “Although we didn’t have the right to vote, I felt the transformative power of being civically engaged,” Tran said during a press conference.
Harry Goodall, 49, has been incarcerated 24 years without voting rights. “If the law still applies to us and can be used against us, then we should be a part of the civil process,” he said. “Removing this disenfranchisement is what every human being should be entitled to.”
Some lawmakers disagree with incarcerated people having the right to vote. “Voting is a privilege that should be taken away as a consequence of being convicted of a crime,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). “We don’t want people who have shown disrespect for our laws to be part of forming them, and that’s what this proposal does,” he said in response to the proposed legislation.
Statistics show that most incarcerated people are Black, Brown, or indigenous; they are overly represented in prison but underrepresented at the polls during election time. Latinos are 41% of the prison population and 38% of the state population, according to new research by Project Males, a Texas based research group.
California’s Black population only makes up 6% of the state, but represents 28% of the prison population, according to Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB). Some believe this is an issue of equity and justice.
There are ten times the number of Blacks incarcerated as opposed to Whites, according to a 2017 report cited by CURB. Blacks are 7.5 times more likely to be wrongfully accused of a crime than White people, according to the National Registry of Exonerations.
As many as 55% of people of color in prison are serving virtual or actual life sentences. Therefore, many Black and Brown people face disenfranchisement and are removed from voter rolls for life.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom has recognized the inequities of race when it comes to the death penalty and Blacks being overly convicted and sentenced based on race. The governor decided to place a moratorium on the death penalty and has begun the process of dismantling Death Row. He also signed the historic Racial Justice Act legislation to give Blacks and other people who feel they were discriminated against on the basis of race an opportunity to challenge their convictions.
Arthur Jackson, 50, is another incarcerated person at San Quentin and a clerk at Mount Tamalpais College. He has been incarcerated 30 years. “People who have never walked in my shoes shouldn’t be making decisions that affect me. They are out of touch and don’t know what to do. That’s why this system is messed up,” he said.
Vermont, Maine, and Washington, D.C., currently allow incarcerated people the right to vote. However, Vermont is only about 1.5% Black. Maine is 1.8% Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
California’s new proposed amendment will have to go through several committees and receive two-thirds majority vote from both houses of the Legislature before it can be placed on the ballot for voter approval during the next election cycle.
“There is no other group of potential voters that would be more informed on the issues than incarcerated people if given the right to vote,” said Jackson. “We deserve to have a voice and to be heard in elections that will affect our lives now and when we’re released.”