San Francisco officials joined a statewide movement Monday to give people who are released from prison the right to vote while on parole.
Supervisor Matt Haney is among the city leaders who argue that denying parolees voting rights is a form of voter suppression that disproportionately impacts people of color.
California lawmakers are seeking to address the issue by placing a measure on the 2020 ballot that would ask voters whether parolees should be able to vote.
A Board of Supervisors committee unanimously voted Monday to support that legislation.
“Disenfranchising people on parole is part of a longer history of voter suppression of marginalized communities in our state and nationwide,” Haney said at the Rules Committee.
Nearly 50,000 people are prevented from casting a ballot in California despite having served their prison sentence for a felony conviction, according to Haney.
Haney said data from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation shows that of the 772 people on parole in San Francisco in 2017, 347 were black and 117 were Hispanic.
“Systemic racism, over policing and racial inequities in our criminal justice system have disproportionately impacted the voting power of black and brown communities to this day,” Haney said.
The vote came after Haney held a rally outside City Hall to support state legislation from Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento.
California law currently strips voting rights from people serving a felony sentence or on parole for a felony.
Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 would place the measure on the ballot to restore voting rights for parolees. Assembly Bill 646, also from McCarty, would implement that change if approved by voters.
ACA 6 is opposed by a group called the Election Integrity Project California. In a written opposition, the group argued that restoring voting rights to parolees would not reduce recidivism as supporters say it would.
“A period of parole gives the former criminal powerful reminders of what true liberty is by withholding just enough of it to incentivize further appropriate behavior so as to earn the rights just beyond the fingertip,” the group said.
At the rally, Supervisor Shamann Walton said people who are on parole have already paid their debt to society. Many on parole have joined the workforce.
“If we can tax them, we should also allow them to have their right to vote,” Walton said.
Since his release from prison nearly two years ago, Everett Butler has gotten a job cleaning up Civic Center with the city-funded nonprofit Urban Alchemy and joined an anti-violence group called the United Playaz.
“I did my time,” said Butler, who went to the rally. “I made it out. I have a good job. I have a place to live and I’m paying my taxes. I’m doing my due justice to society.”
Butler told the San Francisco Examiner that he served 26 years for a gang-related murder he committed in South-Central Los Angeles at the age of 19.
“We just need to be heard because I may have headed down the street where there’s bumps in the road and I can tell you where they are,” Butler said. “We need to help each other.”
The resolution from Haney is co-sponsored by supervisors Walton, Gordon Mar, Vallie Brown, Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen and Sandra Fewer.
Public Defender Manojar Raju and District Attorney candidate Chesa Boudin also joined the rally.
“The people who are on parole, a lot of them should not have been on parole in the first place,” Raju said. “We’re losing out on the wisdom that people bring to civic discourse even if they’ve been on parole.”