Nearly 50,000 Californians on parole today are ineligible to vote. They pay taxes at the local, state, and federal levels, but are prevented from their fundamental voting rights. Taxation without representation is present yet again; this time, there is no tea party.
For those who have served their time to be truly free, it is critical to restore their vote, so they are able to fully reintegrate into society. As civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson has said, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” The opinions of parolees are necessary to create a more robust democracy.
A major victory occurred on the Senate floor in June when the Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 6 was passed. If approved by the electorate in November with Proposition 17, it will allow Californians on parole to participate in democracy. We can free the vote.
Felony disenfranchisement has a history in the United States since Jim Crow laws from the 1800s and continues to be used to suppress the power of people of color, especially Black communities. Passing Proposition 17 is our next step in addressing the horrid racial oppression in our country, and more specifically in our state.
According to a 2019 Initiate Justice survey, 37% of Californians on parole or in prison voted before incarceration, and 98% said they would vote if they could because they want “to contribute to society in a positive way, feel like a member of a larger community, and have a voice in our political process.”
Juan Moreno Haines, who was in prison for 23 years said: “When people ask me why I want to vote, I tell them that incarceration took many things away from me, but it did not take away my citizenship. When people ask me why I want to vote, I say: Democracy Needs Everyone.”
People on parole in 18 other states can vote, yet California, being arguably the most progressive state has not yet restored this right to parolees. We can create an inclusive democracy by voting yes on Proposition 17 on the November ballot.
Voting is a fundamental right of all citizens living in the United States. We cannot say we are a government “for the people, by the people” if we exclude such a large group of citizens from our democracy.
Zoha Raza is the Communications Coordinator of the San Francisco Bay Area office of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-SFBA). She can be reached at [email protected]