BERKELEY – California permits former state prisoners to vote once they have completed their sentence or parole, but many formerly incarcerated Californians don’t know their rights, a new report from The Greenlining Institute has found. This is particularly important for African American and Latino communities, who make up about 70 percent of the state’s adult male prison population.
The report is based input from formerly incarcerated individuals gathered at small-group community input sessions conducted last year in Los Angeles and San Bernardino.
Nearly two thirds of participants reported having been confused at some point about their ability to vote after a criminal conviction. In particular, many believed they needed to go through some special process to restore their right to vote, which is not the case.
Greenlining also looked at implementation of AB 149, a state law intended to help inform the formerly incarcerated of their voting rights. One way that county probation departments can comply is by posting a link to the California Secretary of State’s Voting Rights Guide for Formerly Incarcerated Californians on their websites. Out of 58 California counties, 35 (60 percent) had such a link on their probation websites, while 23 counties (40 percent) did not. Greenlining’s analysis of web statistics provided by the Secretary of State’s office indicated that these links had resulted in few actual visits to the voting rights guide, suggesting that this method of informing former prisoners is insufficient.
“Formerly incarcerated Californians care about voting and have a lot at stake in our elections,” said report co-author Zainab Badi, Greenlining Institute Claiming Our Democracy fellow. “We should be encouraging them to participate in our democracy as they reintegrate into society, and we need a much more comprehensive system for getting them the information they need to exercise their rights.”