3

ACLU, LWV sue Debra Bowen over voting rights

Former inmates on post-release community supervision and mandatory supervision should be eligible to vote, civil-rights groups argue in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

Bowen issued a directive in 2011 that people in these categories – which were created under the prison realignment plan pursued by Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature – were ineligible to cast ballots.

But the lawsuit – filed in Alameda County Superior Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area on behalf of the League of Women Voters of California, the All of Us Or None inmate-rights group, and several individuals – notes the state constitution specifies that every adult Californian has a right to vote except while “imprisoned or on parole for a conviction of a felony” or mentally incompetent.

More than 58,000 people have been wrongly disenfranchised by Bowen’s “administrative fiat,” the lawsuit claims.

“Voting is a civic duty, and prohibiting people who are living in the community under these new forms of community supervision from participating in this critical part of our democracy serves no useful purpose and is likely to impede re-integration and rehabilitation into civil society,” the lawsuit says.

Also, Bowen violated the California Administrative Procedure Act by issuing her directive without giving any public notice or allowing comments, the suit claims. “These requirements are meant to ensure that people who will be affected by a government rule or policy can have a voice in its creation and to provide, as our supreme court has put it, some security against ‘bureaucratic tyranny.’”

UPDATE @ 11:47 A.M.: A similar lawsuit was filed in 2012, but the state Court of Appeal and Supreme Court both declined to review the case, so Bowen’s interpretation of the law stood. Bowen won’t comment on pending litigation, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • JohnW

    Right or wrong the state constitution excludes those who are on parole for a felony from the right to vote. Isn’t being on post-release community supervision and mandatory supervision essentially the same as being on parole?

  • Elwood

    The ACLU, prisoners’ rights groups and other freaks will argue in court (and probably successfully) that “the same as being on parole” is not parole.