Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bill Providing Voting Rights Information and Registration to Eligible Current and Former Offenders Passes Assembly Public Safety Committee

SACRAMENTO, CA- Assembly Member Shirley N. Weber’s (D-San Diego) AB 149 passed the Assembly Committee on Public Safety with a 5-2 vote on April 16, 2012.
AB 149 would ensure that persons involved in the criminal justice system are given accurate information about their voting rights and are afforded the opportunity to participate in the civic life of their communities.

“Anyone who believes that voting is one of the bedrock principles of our democracy should support AB 149,” said Assembly Member Weber. “Right now, whether it’s intentional or not, we are depriving an entire segment of eligible voters, largely people of color, from their voting rights simply by not providing them with the correct voting information.”

The bill would require the Department of Corrections to provide every parolee with a voter registration form and information about their voting rights upon the completion of their parole supervision. It would also require county probation departments to provide every eligible person under their supervision with a voter registration form and information on their voting rights. County sheriffs would also be required to provide this same information to eligible inmates of a county jail.
California ranks near the bottom (45th) among states in voter registration levels. Among the millions of unregistered voters in California are people who mistakenly believe they are ineligible to vote due to a criminal charge or conviction.

Participation in voting and other civic matters can help former offenders successfully re-enter society and has been linked to help reduced recidivism. The California State Constitution and state law provides that once a person has completed parole, his or her voting rights are automatically reinstated.

But those involved in our criminal justice system are not apprised of their voting rights nor is accurate voter information readily accessible to them.

Instead, rumors and misinformation abound, and even from courts, public defenders and elections officials often give out incorrect information about eligibility. For example, a study by the Sentencing Project, a Washington research and advocacy group, found that 37 percent of public officials surveyed in 10 states either misstated a central provision of the voter eligibility law or were unsure about what the law said.

Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, the lack of accurate voter registration information has a particularly disparate impact on communities of color in California.

“We know that countless reports such as Uggen & Manza’s study of voting rights and recidivism, as well as Brennan Center for Justice and Democracy’s Voting Rights Restoration study, have echoed the sentiment that there is a strong correlation between voting and reduced recidivism so it only makes sense to ensure accurate information is provided,” said Assembly Member Weber.

By offering voter registration to the thousands of eligible voters who pass through our criminal justice system, the state will be taking an important step toward increasing its dismal voter registration rate.

The public welfare and safety of our communities will also be enhanced by the civic participation of all eligible voters, which includes those who are attempting to successfully re-enter their communities.

The bill will be heard next by the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee on April 23, 2013.

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