California election officials are reversing a policy that prevents 45,000 felons from casting ballots, placing the state in the forefront of a movement to boost voting rights for ex-criminals.
California has until now maintained that state law prohibits felons from voting not only when they are in prison or on parole but also when they are under community supervision.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla said Tuesday that the state would now back voting rights for felons on community supervision, which is generally overseen by county probation departments.
The shift affects a growing number of felons because under the state’s effort to reduce prison and jail crowding, the vast majority of nonviolent offenders are being released into community supervision programs.
Padilla said the decision was “compelled by conscience.”
“It is not lost on me that persons of color are disproportionately represented in our correctional institutions and that undeniable disparities exist,” he added.
Restoring voting rights to felons has become closely tied to nationwide efforts to reform the criminal justice system.
“These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive,” former Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said in a speech to a civil rights group in February. “By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”