Over six million Californians voted this past Tuesday. Fifty year-old Dauras Cyprian was not one of them.
He wanted to vote, but like 40,000 other Californians on parole, state law prevented him.
Cyprian is working to push California do what 17 other states already have—allow people who have been released from prison on parole to vote.
Cyprian was in prison in California for 26 years. He was released on parole two years ago with supervision and guidelines. He reports to a parole officer once a month and cannot go 50 miles from his Fairfield home without permission.
Cyprian started classes at San Francisco State University a few months after he got out. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences from New England College. He’s now enrolled in a master’s program. He became a senior organizer with Oakland’s All of Us or None, a group that fights for the rights of incarcerated people and their families. He rents an apartment in Fairfield with his wife.
In releasing Cyprian on parole, the state of California said to him: You have repaid your debt to society. You can go to college, work, pay taxes, drive, and help raise your family. But you cannot vote.
“Am I a second-class citizen or a citizen?” asks Cyprian. “Where do my wrongs end and my rights begin?”
“We’re out here trying to acclimate,” he said. “I have a car note and pay my bills just like everyone else. I want to have a say in where my tax dollars will go.”
This past April, New York restored voting rights to parolees. “It is unconscionable to deny voting rights to New Yorkers who have paid their debt and re-entered society,” said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Withholding or delaying voting rights diminishes our democracy.”
Cyprian, who is African-American, said California law disproportionately disenfranchises African-Americans — who are four times as likely to be barred from voting as Californians at large, according to a 2016 estimate.
Nationally, 6.1 million Americans are forbidden to vote because of laws restricting voting rights for people convicted of felony-level crimes, according to a 2016 study by The Sentencing Project. One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised.
Sixty-eight percent of Californians on parole are working or in a vocational education program, according to a 2018 survey conducted by Initiate Justice. Thirty-six percent are pursuing higher education. Their concerns mirror those of the majority of Californians. They said education (98%), public safety (95%), and economic stability (92%) are their top issues.
California has made some progress restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people. In 2016, California passed a law that allows people convicted of felonies who are in local jails or on probation to vote. But the law did not extend to people in prison on a felony offense or on parole due to limits in the California Constitution.
Cyprian and a coalition of organizations are asking Governor Jerry Brown to use his executive authority to restore voting rights to people on parole. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe took similar action in 2016. The coalition of organizations includes All of Us or None, ACLU of California, Initiate Justice, the Brennan Center for Justice, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. According to the coalition, the governor has the authority to make a partial pardon to restore voting rights to all Californians on parole.
Cyprian says there was a time in his life when he wouldn’t have cared about voting, but that changed after reading The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander when he was in college and learned more about the harms and failures of mass incarceration.
“I don’t want to be called an ex con,” said Cyprian. “I’m a person with a conviction history. I want people to look at us like people.”