RAC-CA endorses Proposition 17, which would amend the state constitution to allow people who are on parole for felonies to vote.
As Reform Jews, we believe that our democracy is strongest when everyone has an opportunity to participate. The Talmud teaches that “A ruler is not to be appointed unless the community is first consulted.” (Brakhot 55a). Voting is our way of consulting the community before appointing a ruler. It is our responsibility as Jews to protect and elevate the right to vote in order to ensure that elected officials truly reflect the will of the people. This responsibility is not mundane but truly sacred, as the relation between government and the people deeply impacts the quality of life of individuals and whole communities.
In addition, our Jewish tradition teaches that through the process of teshuvah – repentance – those who have done wrong can earn the chance to rejoin their community. We believe that the purpose of the criminal justice system must be to rehabilitate and reintegrate people into the community, not to stigmatize those who have made mistakes and paid their debt to society.
The denial of voting rights to a person convicted of a felony is not a public safety measure. Instead, as noted by Taina Vargas-Edmond, executive director of Initiate Justice, the practice “is rooted in a punitive justice belief system that intentionally attempts to rob marginalized people of their political power." But, as Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, the lead legislative sponsor of the Proposition 17 amendment, has said, "Parole by definition is not punishment — it’s to help reintegrate people back into the mainstream. Parolees are many times working, paying taxes, raising their family, doing right. And they can’t vote on policies that affect their lives." Because currently parolees are disproportionately Black or Latino, the denial of their right to vote also impacts communities inequitably along racial lines.
Moreover, California is one of only a handful of states that allows people on probation to vote but denies the same right to vote to people on parole. Probation is a type of original sentence handed down by a judge or jury at trial. Parole, on the other hand, is a condition of release granted by a parole board after a person has served time. Aside from voting rights, however, the conditions of parole and probation are usually similar.
The Brennan Center for Justice has noted that the disparate treatment of parole and probation for voting rights purposes leads to confusion and disenfranchisement:
Few people, including election administrators, understand the difference between probation and parole. And as Californians know, those distinctions are becoming increasingly opaque and confusing as new forms of supervision get created. The result is that eligible voters think that they cannot or refrain from voting out of fear that they may be breaking the law, a phenomenon we call ‘de facto disenfranchisement.’
Proposition 17 would eliminate this confusion by treating parole and probation the same for voting rights purposes.
What Prop 17 Does:
In 1974, voters approved Proposition 10, which amended the California Constitution to remove language that prohibited persons who were convicted of infamous crimes or high crimes from voting. Instead, Proposition 10 restored the right to vote to convicts after the completion of their imprisonment and parole sentences. Proposition 17 would take this reform one step further by allowing people with felonies who are on parole to vote. It would, however, maintain imprisonment as a disqualification for voting.
Proposition 17 is widely supported by elected officials and by non-profits such as the ACLU of California and the League of Women Voters of California.
For More information:
For the Text of the measure: https://elections.cdn.sos.ca.gov/ballot-measures/pdf/aca-6.pdf