From Where We Are

Prop It Up #3: Understanding Prop 17

This week we take a look at the controversial proposition that would allow felons on parole to vote

By Johnny Dorcil, Samantha Moscow and Emma Charloff

Voting rights are the backbone of democracy, and in Prop 17, California tackles one of the most controversial voting blocs in the nation—people on state parole.

Right now in California, ex felons regain their right to vote once they finish serving their time and complete their parole. That is the result of a previous ballot measure approved by voters about 45 years ago.

Now Prop 17 would give ex felons their voting rights before they finish their parole. A ‘yes’ vote on Prop 17 would let people on state parole register to vote. A ‘no’ vote would result in no change to the rule barring those on parole from voting.

Nearly 50,000 people in California cannot vote because they are on parole after completing their sentences for felonies. And the Public Policy Institute of California reports about two-thirds of them are African American or Latinx.

The ACLU describes the current law as “a form of voter suppression that disproportionately locks Black and brown voters out of the ballot box.” Backers of Prop 17 argue a yes vote would restore voting rights to this underserved population.

Shay Franco Clausen heads the ‘Yes on Prop 17’ campaign. She spoke to NBC4 in Los Angeles.

“Parole is not another form of punishment. If they have to get their license, if they have to pay taxes, if they are actually pushed to be productive contributing members of society, what does it have to do with voting?”

Opponents of Prop 17 argue it is potentially dangerous, and violent offenders should prove they have been rehabilitated by completing their parole. Republican California Senator Jim Nielsen tells Bakersfield ABC affiliate. He opposes proposition 17.

“It includes rapists, it includes murderers, the serious and violent offenders, not just the so-called low-level offenders. And now we’re going to reward individuals by giving them the vote. That is an injustice, number one to the victims and the next of kin, who have been aggrieved by this criminal, by whatever they did”

18 states and the District of Columbia allow people to vote once they are released from prison. The remaining 34 states have more rigid rules towards which crimes can and cannot have voting rights restored. Some states have permanently taken away voting rights from felons even after they served their sentence and their parole.