SAN FRANCISCO -- Tens of thousands of California residents will soon have their voting rights restored as the state drops its appeal of a ruling that found the state could not bar individuals who have left prison and completed parole and are now under county supervision from registering to vote.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who was elected last fall, announced Tuesday that the state would no longer attempt to overturn the ruling in Scott v. Bowen, a reversal of the stance taken by his predecessor, Debra Bowen.
In 2011, California began shifting thousands of low-level offenders out of state prisons and into county custody as part of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's realignment initiative. During that transition, Bowen issued a directive saying a state law that barred individuals in prison or on parole for felony convictions from voting also applied to ex-offenders under county supervision.
The American Civil Liberties Union and several other organizations later filed suit in Scott v. Bowen, arguing that the secretary of state's directive unconstitutionally disenfranchised over 60,000 Californians. An Alameda County Superior Court Judge sided with the ACLU in 2014, and California appealed the ruling.
The settlement announced Tuesday comes two days before the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. According to the ACLU, ex-offenders will regain the right to register to vote as soon as the state's First District Court of Appeals officially grants Padilla's motion to withdraw the appeal.
During a press conference, Padilla said Bowen's appeal of the decision was the one policy he could not support when he took office in January.
"If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism, we need to engage -- not shun -- former offenders," he said. "Voting is a key part of that engagement; it is part of a process of becoming vested and having a stake in the community."
"The United States Supreme Court eloquently proclaimed, 'No right is more precious in a free country than that of having a voice in the election of those who make the laws under which, as good citizens, we must live. Other rights, even the most basic, are illusory if the right to vote is undermined,'" Padilla continued. "Today’s announcement is in line with these pronouncements, the arc of California history and the spirit of the Voting Rights Act."
Sharron Cherisse of San Diego is one of the individuals whose voting rights will be restored. She was unable to vote in the 2012 presidential election because she was on probation.
"I wanted to be a part of that, a part of history," Cherisse, 37, told The Huffington Post. "And I wasn't able to, and that really bothers me."
She now plans to register to vote as soon as the appeal is officially withdrawn.
"I'm excited to be able to vote in 2016," she said.
"Padilla is bucking a national trend in which voting rights are under attack," Lori Shellenberger, director of the ACLU of California’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. "We are thrilled that this administration has effectively said 'no' to Jim Crow in California, and instead is fighting for the voting rights of California’s most vulnerable communities."
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