Restoring the Right to Vote for Formerly Incarcerated Individuals

With the November 3rd election quickly approaching, ensuring the right to vote for Americans is of utmost concern. Recognizing the burden felony disenfranchisement places on communities, particularly on African Americans and communities of color, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas authored a motion with Supervisor Janice Hahn to take an official position in support of Proposition 17, the “Voting Rights Restoration for Persons on Parole Amendment.”

This motion, approved in a 4-1 vote, calls for granting voting rights to parolees in California who are United States citizens and calls for recognizing September 22, 2020 as National Voter Registration Day throughout Los Angeles County. This will enable the Free the Vote Task Force initiative to encourage the County’s residents to register to vote and promote civic engagement widely across the County. Under Proposition 17, the voting rights to upwards of 50,000 California parolees who are working, paying taxes, and earnestly contributing to the overall welfare of their communities will be restored.

The introduction of this motion follows efforts led by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas over the past few years to expand voter and civic engagement as well as establish a voter engagement task force, oriented toward justice-involved populations. Research has shown that increasing civic empowerment among justice-involved populations reduces recidivism, in turn further empowering these individuals, their families, and their communities.

“Mass incarceration has devastated many communities, in particular communities of color. Taking away the fundamental right to vote is one example of how mass incarceration is designed to perpetuate racial inequities. Restoring parolees voting rights will give them not only a chance at redemption but also add their valued voice back to our communities,” said Los Angeles County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia.

In 2018, a motion authored by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and co-authored Supervisor Sheila Kuehl established the LA Free the Vote Task Force and a civic engagement plan for justice-involved voters. As a result, the LA Free the Vote Task Force launched a campaign to register 1,000 justice-involved individuals by this upcoming November election.

In 2019, the Board of Supervisors also approved a motion by Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl that supported the ACA 6 “Free the Vote Act” legislation, which initially placed Proposition 17 on the ballot. A New Way of Life Reentry Project’s Founder and President Susan Burton has since been a leading advocate for the amendment.

“A New Way of Life has housed thousands of women recently released from California prisons over the last two decades. They obey all laws, work, and pay taxes—but cannot vote,” said Burton. “We applaud Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the motion to support Proposition 17. Voting demonstrates positive citizenship. We want all residents of California to vote in this important election and elections to come.”

“As we prepare to celebrate September 22nd as National Voter Registration Day, it is my hope that in the near future who we define as a voter will include the 50,000 parolees who are legally barred from voting,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

This recent motion is another effort to ensure voter rights and engagement as time until the election is quickly running out.