Capitol Alert

Should convicted felons on parole vote? 2020 Democrats weigh in on California proposal

During Thursday night’s Democratic presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden highlighted his plans to address issues within the criminal justice system.

He advocated for a restoration of rights when inmates are released, adding “nobody should be in jail for a non-violent crime.”

“When you finish your term in prison, you should be able not only to vote but have access to Pell grants, have access to be able to get housing, have access to be able to move along the way.”

This week, California has advanced a proposal that would allow an estimated 48,000 people convicted on felony charges to vote. If Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 clears the state Senate on Friday, voters will get to make a final determination on this issue when they vote in the 2020 election.

Several 2020 Democratic presidential candidate support the idea behind California’s proposal.

Biden’s campaign said the former vice president supports the automatic restoration of voting rights for people convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences.

Harris endorsed California’s proposal earlier in the day, writing on Twitter, “Our democracy is stronger when it’s fair and inclusive. We must free the vote to include those on parole. California’s ACA 6 has my support.”

Other candidates are calling for more expansive voting rights. Joe Calvello, a spokesman for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, said Sanders wants all current inmates to have the ability to cast a ballot.

“Bernie Sanders believes voting is a fundamental right,” Calvello said in a statement. “Bernie is the only candidate who recognizes that the right to vote is not something that should be stripped away due to incarceration and, as president, will restore voting rights for those currently incarcerated and those who served their time.”

The campaign of Sanders’ progressive opponent, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, declined to comment. A spokesperson for Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar noted the candidate supports a federal law that would grant voting rights to inmates when they are released. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker also supports the national bill.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, “believes we should restore the right to vote for all formerly incarcerated people immediately upon release from confinement — not contingent on any payment of fines or fees and not contingent on the completion of supervised release,” according to Buttigieg’s spokesman, Chris Meagher.

Andrew Yang’s campaign said the entrepreneur “supports restoring voting rights for previously incarcerated individuals, as well as current inmates who aren’t convicted of certain egregious crimes.”

Booker’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment, nor did the campaigns of former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Bryan Anderson is a political reporter for The Bee. He covers the California Legislature and reports on wildfires and transportation. He also hosts The Bee’s “California Nation” podcast.