Associated Press

Tens of thousands of parolees would be allowed to vote under a state constitutional amendment proposed Monday by California’s secretary of state and Democratic state lawmakers who called it the next civil rights issue.

The proposal intended for the 2020 ballot would help nearly 50,000 felons who have served their time adjust to being back in the community, said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and other advocates. Parolees currently are prohibited from registering to vote in local, state or federal elections.

California is one of several states that have or are considering expanding voting rights for felons. The proposal would not affect criminals until they are released from custody, unlike in some other states, but victims’ rights groups said it still goes too far.

Democrats control the two-thirds legislative majorities needed to put the measure on the ballot, but the amendment’s author, Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, predicted it will not be an easy vote.

It advances California’s efforts to make voting easier and more inclusive while some other states are limiting voting rights, said Padilla, who noted that inmates are disproportionately minorities.

“We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that the history of voter suppression in America is rooted in white supremacy,” said Padilla, a Democrat starting his second four-year term as the state’s chief elections official.

Advocates said about 6 million Americans are unable to vote nationwide because they are felons or ex-felons.

Fourteen other states and Washington, D.C., already allow felons to vote after their release from prison, said Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove of Los Angeles, who called it “the civil rights issue of the day.”

“I’m citizen enough to tax but I’m not citizen enough to vote,” said Michael Mendoza, policy director for the Anti-Recidivism Coalition. He said he was released on lifetime parole in 2014 after he was convicted as an adult of a second-degree murder he committed at age 15.

The pool of potential voters in the battleground state of Florida grew by as many as 1.4 million people earlier this month after nearly two-thirds of voters there allowed registration by ex-convicts who completed their probation or parole, with the exception of those convicted of murder or sex offenses. Starting in March, Louisiana will allow anyone on probation or parole to vote once they’ve been out of custody for five years, unless they’ve been convicted of a felony election offense.

The proposed California constitutional amendment contains no exemptions based on type of crime. But the California amendment would not go so far as Maine and Vermont, which allow felons to vote while they are behind bars. Lawmakers in Nebraska and New Mexico have proposed allowing voting in prison.

Crime victims groups plan to fight the measure, though both sides may have limited financial resources.

“Just because they’ve are out on parole doesn’t mean they have completed their sentence,” said Nina Salarno, president of Crime Victims United of California. Voting should be an incentive for ex-convicts to successfully complete their parole, she said.

Christine Ward, executive director of the Crime Victims Action Alliance, said the proposal continues California’s pattern in recent years of reducing sentences and increasing earlier releases from prison.

“Why should the individuals who committed these horrible crimes be given the same rights as the rest of us who are following the rules?” Ward said. “I would hope that there are people left in our society that understand that this is just taking it a little bit too far.”

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