Could California Possibly Be The Latest State Who Restores Voting Rights To People Who Had Felony Convictions

Before having his sentence commuted by Governor Gavin Newsom last year, Thanh Tran served a massive ten and a half years in prisons and jails across California, a time he described as the “most traumatizing and dehumanizing experience of my life”. Had he been able to vote during that time, he said he would have maintained some hope that his community still cared about him. And even though this sentence will completely divide the crowd out there, I strongly believe criminals, especially the ones who have been an offender multiple times before, don’t have in them the will to learn or change in its totality.

“The focus of incarceration right now in California is about punishment, but if I had the ability to vote, it would still create that tie to the community,” said Tran, now a policy associate with the Oakland-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. It would be like the community saying, “Thanh, we still care about you out here,” he said. “We know your sentence will one day end and we want you to return home and be a good neighbor to us.”

Now well, Tran is a leading supporter of ACA 4, a constitutional amendment introduced last week by California assembly member Isaac Bryan that would restore voting rights to California’s prisoners – a population that is disproportionately non-white. California is one of at least three states where lawmakers this year have introduced proposals to allow citizens to vote while serving time for felonies in state and federal prison. Democratic lawmakers in Massachusetts and New York have also filed bills and amendments to end felony disenfranchisement.

If any of the proposals succeed, the states would join Maine, Vermont and Washington DC in allowing people to vote while incarcerated. Along with the states restoring rights to people with felony convictions upon release from prison, this marks a time when states are slowly erasing Jim Crow-era laws that have prevented people with felony convictions from ever fully regaining their rights. But advocates still face steep challenges.

While Washington DC successfully ended felony disenfranchisement back in July 2020 when the city council passed a bill unanimously, the efforts this year will face uphill battles, and other states that have attempted to do the same in recent years have run into roadblocks. In Oregon, a legislative attempt stalled in early 2022 , despite strong support from Democratic lawmakers. And legislation proposed in Illinois also stalled in committee. Similar unsuccessful bills have also been introduced in Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Virginia.

Across the country, however, an estimated 4.6 million Americans are barred from voting due to a felony conviction, according to the Sentencing Project , a research and advocacy group focused on decarceration. The rate at which African Americans are disenfranchised currently is 3.5 times higher than non-African Americans. Bryan said he hopes his proposed constitutional amendment will get more states thinking about restoring voting rights to everyone. “As we lead in California, a lot of the rest of the country follows,” Bryan said. “I think that’s a good thing and it’s an opportunity to show what change can look like and what progress can look like.”