Politics & Government

Thousands of California felons keep right to vote after Padilla announcement

Secretary of State Alex Padilla in an Aug. 1, 2011 file photo.
Secretary of State Alex Padilla in an Aug. 1, 2011 file photo. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Tuesday he won’t appeal a voting rights decision against the state, guaranteeing the vote for tens of thousands of former felons.

The decision affects people who are now in county-run programs created by the state’s criminal justice realignment law, which sought to reduce California’s prison population. The county release program doesn’t include people with convictions for violent crimes, along with others whose crimes are considered more serious under California law.

Under the California Constitution, people in prison or on parole for a felony cannot vote. Former Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s policy classified felons released into the new programs the same way as state parolees, meaning they could not participate in elections.

The ACLU, along with other civil rights groups and the League of Women Voters, sued Bowen in 2014. They argued the Legislature had created the community supervision categories as an alternative to parole for low-level offenders, and that people in the programs shouldn’t be classified the same was as state parolees. Although an Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in May 2014, an appeal was still possible.

On Tuesday, Padilla said he’s not taking that option.

“By withdrawing a challenge to the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated that was taken up by his predecessor, Secretary of State Alex Padilla sends the nation a message that California will not stand for discrimination in voting and that he will fight to protect the right to vote for all eligible Californians,” Anna Castro, spokesperson for the ACLU, said in an e-mail Tuesday.