Tens of thousands of Californians who served sentences for nonviolent felonies will be allowed to vote after their release under an agreement announced Tuesday by the state’s top elections official, who reversed his predecessor’s policy. Secretary of State Alex Padilla said he was dropping an appeal filed by fellow Democrat Debra Bowen, who was sued after declaring the former inmates ineligible to vote in December 2011. Bowen appealed a judge’s ruling last year in favor of the plaintiffs in the suit. In dropping that appeal, Padilla, who took office in January, said he wanted to ensure that lower-level felons who were sent under Gov. Jerry Brown’s “realignment” program to county jail as a way to remedy state prison overpopulation retained their voting privileges.
At a news conference outside the Alameda County courthouse at the edge of Oakland’s Lake Merritt, Padilla said his decision was “one compelled by conscience. It is not lost to me that persons of color are disproportionately represented in our correctional institutions and an undeniable disparity exists,” he said.
Padilla was flanked by inmate-advocacy groups, the chief probation officers of Alameda and Los Angeles counties, and one former offender who said she was excited to be able to cast her vote in next year’s elections. “Before I was incarcerated, I exercised my right to vote,” said Sharron Bolden, 37, of San Diego. “I have always thought voting was important, because it can make a difference in my community.”