Californians in prison for felonies could vote under proposed constitutional amendment

Californians in prison would be allowed to vote under a proposed constitutional amendment introduced Monday.

The state would join two others, and the District of Columbia, in granting that right to people convicted of felonies if legislators agree to the idea. It was introduced by Assemblyman Isaac Bryan, a Los Angeles Democrat.

“Democracy thrives when everybody has a chance to have their voice heard,” Bryan said in a tweet about the proposal, adding it was “an absolute responsibility” to introduce it. Bryan is the chair of the Assembly Committee on Elections.

Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey, of Palmdale, vice chair of the elections committee, opposes the bill.

“It’s just not fair to victims. It totally excludes them,” Lackey said. “These people who break our laws should not have a role in making the law for everybody else.”

The measure requires two-thirds support from both the state Assembly and Senate. It would then need to be approved through a statewide ballot measure.

A spokesman for the Governor’s Office declined to comment on the proposal.

Bryan’s effort follows Proposition 17, a 2020 constitutional amendment that gave people the right to vote if they are on state parole. Almost 59% of voters approved the ballot measure, which was introduced by Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, of Sacramento.

Initiate Justice, whose mission is to “end incarceration in California and implement just reforms,” according to its website, was the lead organization for Prop. 17 and the latest amendment.

“If our intention is to keep our community safe, then we should be focusing on ways to help people feel connected rather than just trying to punish our way out of social problems,” said Taina Vargas, the group’s co-founder. “People inside understand how important it is to be civically engaged.”

Maine and Vermont are the only states that allow those incarcerated for felonies to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California and twenty other states strip voting rights from people in prison, but restore them once they are released, the NCSL reports.

Bryan and others are expected to hold a press conference outside the Capitol Wednesday morning about the proposal.