Sacramento— Today, Assemblymember Isaac G. Bryan (D-Los Angeles), along with community leaders, formerly incarcerated organizers and organizations committed to protecting democracy announced the introduction of ACA 4, a constitutional amendment that will restore the voting rights of people incarcerated in California.
The California constitution specifies that individuals serving a state or Federal prison term are disqualified from voting while incarcerated. The amendment proposed by Assemblymember Bryan would remove that stipulation.
"Disenfranchisement of incarcerated people does nothing to improve the safety of our communities or encourage rehabilitation," Assemblymember Bryan said. "All the data shows us that voting reduces recidivism, and increases the community connectivity for people. Disenfranchisement further silences the voices of already unheard Black, Brown, poor, Veteran, and Indigenous communities. This is the right thing to do. Democracy thrives when everybody has a chance to have their voices heard."
Antoinette Ratcliffe, Executive Director of Initiate Justice, an advocacy group specializing in alternatives to incarceration and a member of the Free the Vote coalition, points to the large number of incarcerated individuals who want to be civically engaged:
"We know that our community members inside are always seeking ways to make a positive impact. As we found in our Democracy Needs Everyone report in 2019, 93% of currently incarcerated respondents expressed that they want to vote in order to contribute positively to the community. They care about jobs, the economy, education, and healthcare – just like us. We have an opportunity to create a more inclusive and safer democracy by Freeing the Vote in California and we must pass ACA 4."
Jay Hockley, a formerly-incarcerated Community Organizer shared, "As someone who had my voting rights taken away while in prison, I can honestly say that the practice is harmful and does not help with the rehabilitative process." Hockley, who works with Initiate Justice Action, another organization in the coalition, went on to say, "regaining my right to vote while on parole has resulted in increased accountability, civic duty, and community connections and that is why I believe that voting rights should be restored to people still completing their sentence as well."
The importance of civic engagement to rehabilitation was echoed by Sam Lewis, Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC). "For a democracy to truly function, voting is a right that every citizen should have and is entitled to. Voting creates an opportunity for people in prison to think about their communities positively as they prepare to renter society. Allowing people in prison to vote and participate in our democratic process will promote accountability and rehabilitation."
Voter suppression has long been a political weapon used to restrict minorities from participating in governance and influencing public policy. Suppression hast taken a variety of forms such as limiting the number of voting centers in certain geographical areas, poll taxes, literacy tests, physical or verbal intimidation at voting sites, disruption of voter registration efforts, disseminating false information on the voting process, and bias in gerrymandering. Linking outcomes in the criminal legal system places a fundamental right of citizenship in jeopardy based on a system that disproportionately harms Black, Brown, poor and Indigenous communities.
"Voting is not a privilege. Instead, it is a right of citizenship. And people in prison do not lose their rights as citizens. The prohibition on allowing incarcerated people to vote has its roots in our nation's shameful legacy of slavery and systemic racism," said Dora Rose, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of California. "Removing the prohibition is essential to democracy and moves us closer to fulfilling a promise the League made a century ago when fighting for women's right to vote. In the immortal words of Fannie Lou Hamer, nobody's free until everybody's free."
"Voting rights in this country have always been marred by racism and exclusion," added Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. "In order to create a pathway for all to participate in our democracy, restoring the right to vote for people in prison is how we honor their rights as fellow citizens. Accountability and access are important tenets of a democracy, and enabling people in prison to vote allows them to exercise their political and organizing power."
When 80% of people incarcerated in California prisons are people of color, denying these individuals the right to vote only perpetuates the root causes that have led to mass incarceration in the first place and ultimately makes us less just and less safe," said Carmen-Nicole Cox, Director of Government Affairs, ACLU California Action. "Systemic racism and voter suppression are longstanding symptoms of anti-Black hate. These oppressive tactics have long co-conspired to block BIPOC communities from being able to compel their government to invest in their health, education, and economic opportunity over policing and mass incarceration. We must end these injustices, and we can start by passing ACA 4."
Principal co-authors include Senator Josh Becker (D-San Mateo) and Assemblymembers Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), Mia Bonta (D-Oakland), Dr. Corey Jackson (D-Moreno Valley), Akilah Weber MD (D-San Diego), Lori Wilson (D-Suisun City). Coauthors include Senators Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), Dave Cortese (D-San Jose), and Lola Smallwood-Cuevas (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblymembers Matt Haney (D-San Francisco), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Tina McKinnor (D-Inglewood) and Evan Low (D-Silicon Valley).