Fight Voter Suppression and Free the Vote in California!

Action deadline: Friday April 26 and ongoing –

There’s strength in numbers. (Go Warriors!) Every vote matters, and we need to do everything in our power to combat voter suppression. Restoring voting rights to Californians who are on parole is a critical step, and although we can’t do this in time for the 2020 election, there’s a path to achieve this goal in the near future. And your help is needed.

East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta is coauthor of Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, the “Free the Vote Act,” which eliminates the provisions of the California Constitution that disqualify people on parole from voting. A companion bill to ACA 6, AB 646, amends the relevant provisions of the Elections Code. Passage of ACA 6 requires a 2/3 vote in both the Assembly and Senate, followed by ratification by a majority of voters. AB 646, if passed into law, will only take effect if the voters pass ACA 6 in the 2020 election. ACA 6 and AB 646 have been designated as priority measures by CA State Strong.

Almost 50,000 Californians on parole are disqualified from voting, even though they have served their sentences and been released from prison. The right to vote is a pillar of citizenship, and people on parole for felony convictions are still citizens who pay taxes and have an overriding constitutional right to have their voices heard on political issues. As Assemblymember Bonta explains:

After paying their debt to society, people have a right and obligation to contribute to society. Part of building a productive life includes becoming civically engaged and exercising the fundamental right to vote.

Given the “racial underbelly of criminal justice policies in general,” it comes as no surprise that felony disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts people of color. In California, three out of four male prisoners are nonwhite. Black American adults are more than four times more likely to lose the right to vote than non-Black American adults. As the Sentencing Project puts it, research shows that:

African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be arrested; once arrested, they are more likely to be convicted; and once convicted, and they are more likely to experience lengthy prison sentences.

In other words: Black Americans are more likely to lose their voting rights, and to lose them for longer. To add insult to injury, prisoners are often counted as residents of largely white rural areas where prisons are located for the purposes of redistricting, leading to “prison-based gerrymandering.”

Felony disenfranchisement is a shameful reminder of California’s Jim Crow laws, enshrined in our Constitution. As a matter of fundamental fairness, we must amend the Constitution to restore the right to vote to people with convictions. Restoring the right to vote helps people leaving prison reintegrate into the community. Successful reintegration reduces recidivism and increases public safety. As Secretary of State Padilla commented: “Civic participation is foundational to a sense of community—and it can play a major role in reducing recidivism.”

California has already begun to reform its felony disenfranchisement policies. In 2016, voting rights were restored to people convicted of a felony offense who had been sent to county jail, but not those sent to state or federal prison. ACA 6 and AB 646 will advance this effort by ensuring that people on felony parole who have served their sentences will be treated equally regardless of the facility in which they were incarcerated.

This is an idea whose time has come. An increasing number of states have passed legislation eliminating or modifying felony disenfranchisement. It’s become a topic of discussion for Democratic Presidential hopefuls and other bigwigs and has entered the discourse on social media. California is lagging behind in this national movement to advance democracy.

What you can do:

1. Call your state representatives, now and every day.

If you’re a constituent of Assemblymember Bonta, thank him; if you’re a constituent of Assemblymember Wicks or Bauer-Kahan, call and encourage them to support ACA 6 & AB 646. Yes, call even when your representatives have taken good positions on an issue! The other side is calling, and you need to make your voice heard.

Find your legislator here.

What to say:

For Assemblymembers Wicks and Bauer-Kahan:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want _______ to co-author and support Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6, which restores voting rights to Californians on parole after they have been released from prison. I also want _______ to support AB 646, the companion bill to ACA 6.

For Assemblymember Bonta:

My name is _______, my zip code is ______, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want to thank Assemblymember Bonta for coauthoring ACA 6 and supporting voting rights for Californians who are on parole after they have been released from prison. I strongly support ACA 6 and AB 646.

  • Buffy Wicks 510-286-1400; email
  • Rob Bonta 510-286-1670; email
  • Rebecca Bauer-Kahan 925-328-1515; email

2. Come to Sacramento on May 20 for the 2019 Quest For Democracy Advocacy Day

Join IEB and community partners at this event at the Capitol in Sacramento, where participants will meet to strategize, train, and then advocate directly to legislators. A bus will leave for the event from Fruitvale and West Oakland BART stations in Oakland on the following schedule on May 20:

  • 7 AM: Bus will be at Fruitvale BART
  • 7:15 AM: Bus leaves Fruitvale BART
  • 7:30 AM: bus leaves West Oakland

RSVP (required!) and let them know you’re with IEB.

Read our prior articles:

Can you help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team? Email: info@IndivisibleEB.org, or join the #voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack. For an invitation to join Slack, email: info@IndivisibleEB.org

 

December 10 March for voting rights, photograph © Michael Fleshman

Restore released felons’ federal voting rights

Action deadline: ASAP and ongoing –

In a rare occurrence of Mitch McConnell speaking truth to power, the Senate Obstruction Leader labeled as a power grab the Democrats’ provisions in H.R. 1 to expand voting rights, including to make Election Day a holiday. Making it easier for people to vote? Guilty as charged, Mitch! And speaking of guilt — and time served — on February 3, House Democrats introduced H.R. 196, the Democracy Restoration Act of 2019, which would extend Federal voting rights to people with felony convictions.

As this powerful letter by a broad coalition of more than 40 organizations in support of the Democracy Restoration Act states:

When people leave prison and return to their community, they deserve a second chance to work, raise families, participate in community life and vote. The current patchwork of felony disenfranchisement laws across the country means that a person’s right to vote in federal elections is determined simply by where they choose to call home. Congress must take action to fix this problem.

What you can do:

Contact your Member of Congress to let them know you support H.R. 196. Representative Barbara Lee is one of the original 33 cosponsors, but Reps. DeSaulnier and Swalwell have  not as of Feb. 7 signed in support. In fact, Swalwell is on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, which likely has jurisdiction over the bill. The Subcommittee’s chair and vice-chair, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, who is also on the Subcommittee, have all cosponsored it; Swalwell should at a minimum cosponsor the bill, and can do more (see the call script below).

What to say if your Representative is Barbara Lee (CA-13):

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to thank Rep. Lee for cosponsoring H.R. 196 to extend federal voting rights to people with felony convictions. Please speak out publicly on this issue and make sure other Members of Congress understand how important it is to address the unfairness resulting from differences in State laws regarding voting rights for people with criminal convictions. Thank you.

What to say if your Representative is Eric Swalwell (CA-15):

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to urge Rep. Swalwell to cosponsor H.R. 196 to extend federal voting rights to people with felony convictions. In addition, please speak out publicly on this important issue and use your position on the Judiciary Committee, and on the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, to do all you can to support this bill. Thank you.

What to say if your Representative is Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11):

My name is _____, my zip code is ____, and I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to urge Rep. DeSaulnier to cosponsor H.R. 196 to extend federal voting rights to people with felony convictions. Please speak out publicly on this issue and also make sure other Members of Congress understand how important it is to address the unfairness resulting from differences in State laws regarding voting rights for people with criminal convictions. Thank you.

  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier: (email); (510) 620-1000 • DC: (202) 225-2095
  • Rep. Barbara Lee: (email); (510) 763-0370 • DC: (202) 225-2661
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell: (email); (510) 370-3322 • DC: (202) 225-5065

Spread the word to people in other districts! Send them this list of the bill’s cosponsors, and this link to find and contact their Rep.

Learn more! 

  • See the Brennan Center for Justice‘s map of criminal disenfranchisement laws across the United States. And read their January 29, 2019, letter to the House Judiciary Committee in support of the voting rights provisions of H.R. 1, including to restore voting rights to people with past felony convictions. Read their pdf booklet, Restoring the Right to Vote.
  • In California, citizens not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for a felony conviction can vote. Maine and Vermont are the only states that currently allow citizens to keep their right to vote even while they’re incarcerated for a felony conviction. For more info on the wide variety of state laws, see the ACLU’s map of state felony disfranchisement laws which prevent about 6 million Americans with felony (and in several states misdemeanor) convictions from voting.
  • Read our recent article about H.R. 1, the For the People Act, focusing on portions of the bill which lay the foundation for more secure elections.
  • For more background on the disenfranchisement of people with criminal convictions in the U.S., the Sentencing Project has worked for decades on issues related to criminal justice and inequity in criminal sentencing. They have a lot to say on felony disenfranchisement.
  • Read our article about the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018, a California ballot initiative we supported last year. The VRDA would have restored voting rights to citizens with past criminal convictions and prohibited the disenfranchisement of voters who are imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction. The initiative’s sponsor, Initiate Justice, stopped collecting signatures and it was not placed on the November 2018 ballot.

 

Help work on these critical issues with the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights & Election Integrity team

 

December 10 March for voting rights, photograph © Michael Fleshman

No Taxation Without Representation

More than 6 million American citizens are not permitted to vote because they have a past criminal conviction. California is better than many states in allowing formerly incarcerated people to vote once they have successfully finished probation, but nearly 180,000 California citizens, most of them people of color, are prohibited from voting only because they’re in state prison or on parole. Initiate Justice, which advocates for “people directly impacted by incarceration, inside and outside prison walls,” believes this is a wrong that can be righted; the Voting Restoration and Democracy Act of 2018 (VRDA), their statewide ballot initiative, would restore voting rights to these citizens and prohibit the disenfranchisement of voters because they are imprisoned or on parole for a felony conviction.

Help California join Maine and Vermont, currently the only states that don’t deprive felons of their right to vote even while they’re incarcerated. For more information see this article about states’ varied approaches to voting rights for felons; and read Restoring the Right to Vote, a pdf booklet by the Brennan Center for Justice.

In order to get the VRDA initiative on the November 2018 California ballot, Initiate Justice needs to get more than 550,000 signatures from registered CA voters by April 17, 2018. You can help:

  • Before you begin, read complete talking points; and watch the video at this page
  • This page on the Initiate Justice website has complete instructions and links for you to download and print signature-gathering petitions, or have them mailed to you
  • Want to help more? Email IEB’s voting team, or join the voting-issues channel on Slack (email info@indivisibleeb.org for an invite to IEB’s Slack platform).

And while we’re on the subject — all of you who ARE eligible to vote, don’t squander that precious right! Please, right now:

  • Are you eligible and not registered? Register online to vote in California
  • Do you have to re-register? Check when you must, here, and if so, re-register!
  • Haven’t checked your registration? Check it now!
  • Do you know any 16- or 17- year olds? Check their eligibility, and help them pre-register online, to vote at 18!
  • Then: ask everyone you know the above questions, and if they’re eligible to vote, help them follow the same steps.

Here are some other very helpful sites which can be used for people in states other than California.

  • Vote.org offers lots of information, and it’s easy to remember (note that it requires you to provide an email address)
  • Indivisible has partnered with TurboVote to help you sign up to receive election reminders, get registered to vote, apply for your absentee ballot, and more
  • The National Association of Secretaries of States’ website helps eligible voters figure out how and where to vote
 Graphic by Democracy Chronicles / Creative Commons