Constitutional amendment giving California prisoners right to vote may also let them hold office

Those opposing the legislation believe it is unreasonable to have ex-felons voting on proposed laws.

Published: February 8, 2023 6:50pm

Updated: February 8, 2023 11:30pm

(The Center Square) -

On Jan 6, a constitutional amendment which would give prisoners the right to vote was introduced by self-described community organizer, policy expert and published academic, Isaac Bryan a Democratic state assembly member.

The Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA 4) introduced by Bryan who chairs the Elections Committee and Committee on Poverty & Economic Inclusion, was co-authored by Assembly Members Bonta, Jackson, Kalra, Weber, and Wilson and removes wording in Section 4 of Article II which states, “The Legislature shall prohibit improper practices that affect elections and shall provide for the disqualification of electors while serving a state or federal prison term for the conviction or a felony.”

It also removes all wording in point (b) Section 2 that “disqualified” prisoners from voting.

But this is not the first legislation that seeks to give voting rights to those with a prison history.

In January 2019, ACA 6, the Free the Vote Act proposed by Secretary of State Alex Padilla joined Democratic Assembly members Kevin McCarty, Sydney Kamlager-Dove, Rob Bonta, and Ash Kalra, aimed to give parolees the right to register to vote.

Proponents of ACA 4, believe that having done their time in prison, individuals should be allowed the right to vote. One twitter user wrote “People shouldn’t lose the right to vote. They pay their debt to society through time served and restitution.” Another said “They're still citizens and we all hope for their successful reentry into civil society. Sends a signal that they are still part of the body politic.”

Those opposing the legislation believe it is unreasonable to have ex-felons voting on proposed laws. “We don’t need people in prison voting to reduce penalties for crimes they committed. This is insanity.” One questioning the motivation of the proposed change stated, “Those criminals obviously made bad decisions & you want them to decide what’s best for our communities? Makes no sense. What is the real reason for this?”

Assembly member Bryan, shared a number of reasons why he believed the amendment was a good one. “Democracy thrives when everybody has a chance to have their voice heard,” he said. “As the Chair of the California State Assembly Elections Committee I didn’t just feel like introducing this ACA was the right thing to do -- but an absolute responsibility.”

One very important impact of the constitutional change however, was not raised on social media and that is that current state law allows registered voters to run for elective offices in California. If no change to disqualify those with convictions is made, the result is they will be able to run for public office as well, once they meet the criteria.

A brief look at the legislation proposed last year by the Democrat-controlled assembly, reveals that by and large, the vast majority dealt with tweaking election rules or introducing new ones. They ran the gamut from mail-in ballots, campaign finance, party name selection, election dates, DMV registration, redistricting and a host of other items.

In order for ACA4 to be successful it would need to get two-thirds of the votes in the Assembly and Senate before it comes to the ballot for Californians. Only three other states and localities have made it legal for the incarcerated to vote within prison walls: Maine, Vermont and Washington D.C.

Vice Chair on the election committee Tom Kackey voiced his opposition on Twitter stating, “Criminal acts should have consequences. Voting is a sacred privilege, not an absolute right of citizenship.”

“It's the right thing to do.” Bryan said in his Feb. 7 tweet.

In a 2019 speech, Bryan described how as a child he would have nightmares and would awake to find his older brother looking over him which helped him transition “from pain to peace. At one such time he asked “Big brother, why do you always stay up with me when I’m having a nightmare?” His brother’s response was “It's my duty to. It's my responsibility. It's wrong for me to sleep peacefully, knowing that you are unable to do the same,” Bryan shared.

Those words have become “a critical lens” Bryan says, by which he “evaluates, critiques and designs public policy.”

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