Californians in county jails for felony offenses will be able to vote next year, thanks to a new bill passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday. The bill—introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a Democrat—is part of a growing nationwide liberal push against felony disenfranchisement for those in and out of prison. Among supporters, the bill has been presented as a way to reintroduce thousands of people in county jails in California back to civic life, while critics, mostly Republicans have framed renfranchisement efforts as a cynical partisan exercise designed to help Democrats win elections. During a floor debate over the bill, Weber argued that “civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism.” Her argument draws on a body of evidence showing that restoration of civil rights to people with felonies can reduce recidivism, including a study by the Florida Parole Commission.
Among liberals nationwide, that rhetoric has generally extended mostly to people with felonies who have already completed jail or prison terms, instead of those still incarcerated. In February, Maryland General Assembly Democrats overrode a veto by Governor Larry Hogan to approve a bill extending the ballot to over 40,000 people with felonies who were no longer imprisoned but were still under probation or parole.
In Virginia, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a surprise executive order in April that automatically re-enfranchised non-incarcerated people with felonies, whereas before they would have had to apply individually to his office for restitution regardless of probation or parole completion. After that order was overturned by Virginia courts, his office sent mailers out to individually grant voting rights to the 13,000 or so people with felonies who had registered to vote under the authority of his order.