The California Assembly on Thursday narrowly approved putting a measure on the ballot next year that would let tens of thousands of parolees vote in future elections.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla and other advocates say ending the ban on voting would help nearly 50,000 felons adjust to being back in the community after serving their time.
The constitutional amendment now goes to the Senate for consideration before the Legislature adjourns next week for the year.
It would not need the approval of Gov. Gavin Newsom to appear on the November 2020 ballot.
Parolees currently are barred from registering to vote in local, state and federal elections.
California is known for being progressive on voting rights and criminal justice issues, but it trails many other states on voting by parolees, said Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who proposed the amendment.
He said the concept even has support from some national conservatives who say it helps improve public safety by encouraging civic responsibility among ex-convicts.
Two Republicans were among those who voted for the measure. Two others objected to allowing voting by murderers and rapists.
The measure needed 54 votes to pass. The final tally was 54-16, with no votes to spare.
“The bottom line is this: persons on parole have not finished their sentence,” said GOP Assemblyman James Gallagher of Yuba City. “People that were murdered, they’ll never get to vote again.”
He also found it ironic that ex-felons could vote while not being permitted to own a firearm.
“You won’t trust them with a gun, but he’d like to entrust them with our democracy.” Gallagher said about McCarty.
Democratic Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, a former prosecutor, said the California Supreme Court has ruled that parole is legally not part of a prison term and is intended as a supervised re-entry period.
“I don’t see this as giving a right to criminals, but I see this as giving a responsibility,” he said, noting that many major public safety organizations don’t oppose the measure.