California passes proposition to restore voting rights to parolees

Prop 17 backers claimed having the right to vote helps parolees reintegrate and may reduce recidivism.

Proposition 17 has passed in the state of California. The ballot measure restores the right to vote for formerly incarcerated felony offenders who are still on parole. 

More than 50,000 people will have their voting rights back. 

A woman stands in line to vote as the sun rises above the Main Street Branch Library vote center Tuesday in Huntington Beach, California. The passage of Proposition 17 in California means more than 50,000 formerly incarcerated felons there will have their voting rights restored. (Photo by Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

“This is a victory for democracy and justice,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, who chaired of the Yes On Prop. 17 campaign and is co-founder and executive director of Initiate Justice. 

“For far too long, Black and brown Californians have been excluded from our democracy,” she continued. “Today, California voters definitively righted a historic wrong.”

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The proposition passed decisively, gaining more than 60 percent of voters’ thumbs-up. 

The measure is a part of California’s larger criminal justice reform initiatives, as it was one of only three that required people convicted of felonies to complete their parole sentences before they could vote. The state’s tough-on-crime laws in the 1980s and ’90s resulted in an overrepresentation of Black and Latinos in prison and, consequently, of Black and Latino parolees.  

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Supporters of Proposition 17 asserted that restoration of the vote helps parolees feel further reintegrated into local communities and may even reduce recidivism. 

Jose Grano Gonzalez, who gets his voting rights back with Prop 17’s passage, released a statement to the Associated Press, saying, “Our country boasts that its citizens have a direct, distinct voice in the conversation about its future. And now thanks to millions of California voters, today we are that much closer to achieving that reality.”

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Detractors of the measure say the restoration of the right to vote is disrespectful to victims of crime. 

However, a parolee named John Windham, who served 30 years in prison for second-degree murder, said “the punitive part” of his sentence ended when he left prison. 

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Windham claims that becoming civically engaged is a part of the ways he is making amends for his past mistakes. 

“I pay my taxes. If you’re going to take my check, I’m going to need to represent myself,” he said. “You’re saying I’m at the table, but right now I don’t have a voice.”

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