League of Women Voters sues to uphold the right of some felons to vote

Rich Pedroncelli/AP

Double-tiered bunks are seen in one of the cells at a formerly closed housing unit at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, in Elk Grove, Calif. that was scheduled to be reopened to handle the increase of inmates sentenced under the new prison realignment program.

The League of Women Voters sued California elections officials Wednesday to uphold the voting rights of certain felons. They say tens of thousands of lower-level criminals shifted to counties under California’s new realignment law should be allowed to cast their ballots.

Under realignment, felons convicted of non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual crimes go to county lockups instead of state prisons. No one’s getting transferred from prison to jail — the law applies only to people convicted after Oct. 1 of last year. Realignment also changes what happens to low-level felons released from state prison. They won’t go on probation like other ex-cons — instead, they’ll go on post-release community supervision managed by counties.

State prisons bar inmates from voting, and ex-cons on probation. The League of Women Voters says state prison restrictions on voting don’t apply to 85,000 offenders diverted from state prison and probation under realignment.

Prisoner advocacy groups All Of Us Or None and Legal Services For Prisoners With Children, along with the League of Women Voters, sued in the First District Court of Appeal to compel the state to let the felons vote in June’s primary election.

On Dec. 5, 2011, California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen sent a memo to county clerks and registrars that says that, under state law, people sentenced to county jail or supervision under realignment don’t get to vote. The state Department of Justice agreed with Bowen in a letter issued Monday.

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