California’s prison realignment effort has drawn up a complicated matrix of detention options for felons, and with it a lot of confusion about which ones can vote. It’s the subject of a lawsuit alleging the state has unconstitutionally stripped nearly 60,000 Californians of their right to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union of California and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area filed the petition in Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday. The suit is on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California and three individuals who cannot vote under new rules enacted in response to realignment. The state constitution prohibits from voting people who are “imprisoned or on parole for conviction of a felony.” The language was clear when offenders fell under two categories: the state’s responsibility or a California county’s responsibility. But realignment has created a hybrid system, putting low-level felons who would have otherwise gone to prison under county supervision, through jail or probation.
Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued a memo in 2011 saying those in the new class of offenders can’t vote. It’s the same sentence; it’s just happening in a different place, according to Bowen.
But ACLU attorney Michael Richer contends it is a different sentence — one that reflects the state’s deliberate swing away from harsh sentencing.
“This directive really stands in the face of realignment’s objectives,” Richer said. “Realignment was intended to reject our old, failed policies of putting more and more people in prison, then on parole, violating these people and then cycling them back through the system.”