jerry-brown-vote-bill-wyv2

California Gov. Jerry Brown at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB2466, a bill that effectively gives county inmates across the state the franchise.

Inmates serving time in a county jail for petty crimes in California will have their voting rights reinstated, according to CBS13.

In a move that resembles the efforts of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who issued an executive order granting ex-felons the right to vote in April, Gov. Jerry Brown has agreed to sign AB2466, a bill which will allow county felons to vote in this year’s election under community supervision. Convicts incarcerated in state and federal prisons are ineligible.

According to CBS13, AB2466 “stems from California’s criminal justice realignment, which led to some people convicted of low-level felonies serving time in county jails.”

Gov. Brown’s decision to give county inmates the ballot has polarized Republicans and Democrats.

Republican legislators, like Sen. Patricia Bates of Laguna Niguel, says letting felons vote opens the possibility of skewing election results. However, Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego believes that Republicans are opposing AB2466 because they do not want certain people to vote. Weber believes that civic participation is an essential part of reducing recidivism.

Despite this back-and-forth between the red pill and the blue pill, enfranchising inmates who are doing time at every level of the American penal system is significant in itself and long overdue.

At present, only two other states — Maine and Vermont — permit their prisoners to go to the polls, and there is no sign of a national conversation emerging around the issue.

Prisoner disfranchisement is odd, given the fact that inmates remain ethically bound by America’s expectations of citizenship throughout the duration of their sentences. It’s also odd when we consider our country’s obsession with the constitution, since voting is a constitutionally mandated right.

But, even if we take the Constitution out of the equation, the current debate over prison reform — from the issue of sentencing practices to the substandard conditions of prison facilities to the very existence of prisons themselves — and the dialogue circulating on social media and campaign trails about the layers of injustices embedded in the criminal justice system is playing a major role in this year’s election cycle. Who better or more qualified to participate in this critical debate than the men and women who are presently incarcerated?

Makes sense, right?

Denying prisoners the vote is a blatant contradiction of the very notion of citizenship under a democratic polity. Conviction for misbehavior does, should not and must never equate to “civic death.”

As Corey Brettschneider, professor of Political Science at Brown University, argues in his article “Why Prisoners Deserve The Right to Vote,” published in Politico.com,

If prisoners remain citizens and retain their civic status throughout their sentences, then it follows that prisoners should enjoy the most basic of their civil rights, the right to cast a ballot. Disenfranchising them creates a class of people still subject to the laws of the United States (they were, after all, punished under that law) but without a voice in the way they’re governed—not unlike taxation without representation.

In effect, they become, as Michelle Alexander articulates in her book “The New Jim Crow, a caste, a mode of existence which is supposedly incompatible with American democratic principles.

Brown’s decision to enfranchise county felons was made amid of one of the largest national inmate work strikes since Attica prison uprising of 1971.

Read more at CBS13.

Comments