Thousands of felons serving time in county jails would be allowed to vote in California elections from behind bars under a bill moving swiftly through the state Legislature despite widespread opposition from law enforcement officials. Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) introduced the measure with an aim that providing convicts the right to vote will give them a better sense of belonging to society and possibly reduce their chances of committing new crimes when released. “Civic participation can be a critical component of re-entry and has been linked to reduced recidivism,” Weber told her colleagues during a recent heated floor debate on the bill. But police chiefs and sheriffs throughout California say the proposal that passed narrowly in the state Assembly undermines a longstanding social compact: those who commit a serious crime lose not only their freedom to live in society for a time but also their right to participate in democracy.
“We believe that there have to be consequences to your action, and the consequences of being a convicted felon are that you can’t vote and you can’t possess firearms,” said Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Assn. “We believe those are appropriate consequences for felonious actions.”
The proposal also has roiled the Legislature, where it received the bare minimum number of votes in the Assembly with Republicans joined by some Democrats in voting against the bill.
Republican Assemblyman Matthew Harper of Huntington Beach is among those who opposed the bill, which he said is motivated by politics. “I think most citizens think it’s pretty outrageous,” Harper said. “There is a pattern nationwide where Democrats are working to try to get as many felons, as many criminals on the voting rolls as possible.”