U.S. News

Bill affirming voting rights for some felons passes California Senate

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Felons incarcerated in California’s county jails had their right to vote in state elections affirmed under a bill approved on Tuesday by the state Senate as part of a series of criminal justice reforms in the most-populous U.S. state.

The measure, authored by Democrat Shirley N. Weber, which now goes to Governor Jerry Brown, aims to clear up confusion over the right to vote for felons who were transferred from state prisons to county jails under a reform program known as realignment.

The restoration of voting rights has drawn support across the country from both Democrats and Republicans as a way to improve prisoners’ reintegration into society.

Advocates contend it is also a way of promoting racial justice, as African-Americans are convicted of crimes and sent to prison at about twice the rate of the overall U.S. population.

Weber said that the bill standardizes and clarifies practices throughout the state to ensure that felons under the formal jurisdiction of county jails and probation departments will be able to vote, she said.

Inmates serving sentences in state prisons will still be barred from voting in California. Those who are held by counties under contracts and still considered to be state prisoners will not be affected by the new law.

California has made several changes to its prison and sentencing policies in recent years, including shifting thousands of inmates to local facilities and probation departments under the 2011 realignment plan.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Alan Crosby