The United States is one of very few countries where a citizen can be permanently stripped of their right to vote for committing a crime. In Florida, for example, more than 10% of otherwise eligible voters were barred from voting in the 2016 presidential election because they had been convicted of a felony (which, in Florida, can include such serious offenses as tampering with an odometer or a lobster trap). Unsurprisingly, such requirements disproportionately disenfranchise non-white voters—a way of continuing Jim Crow when courts finally outlawed more blatant methods.
In contrast, many modern democracies, such as Canada, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland, treat voting as an inalienable right that cannot never be taken away due to a criminal conviction.
California’s restrictions are not as bad as Florida’s, but currently our constitution disqualifies anyone convicted of a felony from voting while they are in prison or on parole. Prop 17 would restore voting rights as soon as someone completes their prison sentence.
We at ICI believe that voting is not a privilege for governments to take away; rather, it is an absolute necessity for keeping governments accountable to the people they govern. As such we would prefer the California Constitution to read simply, “A person 18 years of age and resident in this State may vote.”
While Prop 17 does not go far enough, it is a good first step in further distancing California from America’s white supremacist present. And, on the international stage, it at least would make voting rights in California no worse than those in Brazil, Hungary, and India.