Voting-rights activists sue Debra Bowen claiming mass exclusions

By Christopher Cadelago

Read the original story at the Sacramento Bee Capitol Alert.

PHOTO: Secretary of State Debra Bowen, right, socializes with Laura Chick, the former city controller of Los Angeles. The Sacramento Bee/Autumn Cruz

Voting-rights advocates sued Secretary of State Debra Bowen for voter disenfranchisement on Tuesday, claiming she blocked from the polls tens of thousands of Californians who fall under new categories of criminal-justice supervision.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area on behalf of the League of Women Voters and other groups.
Under state law, people imprisoned or on parole for conviction of a felony are ineligible to vote.
The new categories, created under three-year-old realignment laws, include mandatory supervision and so-called post-release community supervision as alternatives to parole for certain lower-level offenders. In a Dec. 5, 2011 memo, Bowen provided just one scenario in which a person incarcerated for a felony could retain their right to vote.
In doing so “by administrative fiat, (Bowen) expanded this voting exclusion to include people who are neither imprisoned nor on parole but are on new forms of community supervision” created by 2011 realignment laws, the lawsuit states. “As a direct result of this unilateral action, more than 58,000 Californians have been wrongly disenfranchised.”
“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,” the lawsuit states.