Lezlie Sterling / The Sacramento Bee

Secretary of State Debra Bowen, seen in 2012.

Bowen sued for blocking some criminals from voting

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 - 12:00 am

Voting-rights advocates sued Secretary of State Debra Bowen for voter disenfranchisement on Tuesday, claiming she blocked from the polls tens of thousands of Californians who fall under new categories of criminal-justice supervision.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area filed the lawsuit in Alameda Superior Court on behalf of the League of Women Voters and other groups.

Spokeswoman Nicole Winger said Bowen has not been served or seen documents related to the lawsuit.

“But I can tell you generally that the secretary of state does not comment on pending litigation,” Winger said.

Under state law, people imprisoned or on parole for conviction of a felony are ineligible to vote.

The new categories, created under 3-year-old realignment laws pushed by Gov. Jerry Brown, include mandatory supervision and so-called post-release community supervision as alternatives to parole for certain lower-level offenders.

In a Dec. 5, 2011, memo, Bowen provided just one scenario in which a person incarcerated for a felony could retain their right to vote.

In doing so, “Bowen has, by administrative fiat, expanded this voting exclusion to include people who are neither imprisoned nor on parole but are on new forms of community supervision,” the lawsuit states.

“As a direct result of this unilateral action, more than 58,000 Californians have been wrongfully disenfranchised.”

This is the second lawsuit challenging the secretary of state’s evaluation of realignment. The state court of appeals and Supreme Court declined to hear the first.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.

Read more articles by Christopher Cadelago

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