By Debra J. Saunders
Wednesday, June 1, 2016 – Updated 4:23 pm
California lawmakers seem intent on making Sacramento the place where reasonable reforms, much like runaway trains, jump the tracks. In that no-speed-limit spirit Tuesday, the California Assembly voted 41-37 to allow convicted felons to vote in jail. (Yes, you read that correctly — in jail.) If Assembly Bill 2466 becomes law, the ACLU estimates that 50,000 adults will be able to vote behind bars. The state doesn’t trust these people on the streets, but they are welcome in the voting booth.
When individuals commit crimes that endanger public safety, they forfeit their civil rights upon conviction. The National Conference of State Legislatures notes that the concept of “civil death” goes back to the Greeks and Romans. In some states — Florida, Iowa — convicted felons are permanently disenfranchised. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently made news by suspending permanent disenfranchisement by temporary order. No need for that in California. In 1976, voters amended the Constitution to end the permanent disenfranchisement of felons. The California Constitution now reads: The Legislature “shall provide for the disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.”
With such clear language, you would think that a measure to allow felons to vote behind bars first would have to go before voters as a constitutional amendment. But voters get no say thanks to an unholy alliance of California politicians, California courts and the ACLU. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Realignment Act, which mandated that low-level felons serve their sentences not in state prisons, but in county jails or under county supervision. It was Brown’s clever way of alleviating state prison overcrowding by moving felons to largely overcrowded jails.
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