California has one of the nation's most liberal policies when it comes to restoring the voting rights of former criminal offenders: Once people have served their time in prison and on parole, they are automatically eligible to vote.
But as many as 60,000 former offenders have been denied that chance since 2011, because of how former Secretary of State Debra Bowen interpreted a then-new state law.
Now, Bowen's successor, Alex Padilla, is reversing that decision.
"One of my primary reasons for seeking the office of Secretary of State was to do everything possible to maintain and to strengthen voting rights in California," Padilla said at an Oakland news conference announcing the decision. “If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and our prisons and serious about reducing recidivism, we need to engage, not shun, former offenders.”
At issue was Bowen's interpretation of the 2011 realignment law, which shifted responsibility for many nonviolent offenders from state prison and parole to local jails and probation offices. While people on probation in California have always had the right to vote, Bowen decided that those on probation because of realignment were ineligible to vote because the new class of probation supervision was "akin to parole."