“I’ve just done 26 years,” said Everett Butler, standing on the steps of San Francisco’s City Hall. “However, since my release, I’ve been out here giving back. I’ve been able to become a member of the United Playaz which has given me the ability to get out and work on the street. I need to be able to vote for the Shamann Waltons, the Matt Haneys, the London Breeds and everyone else that comes behind them.”
On Monday morning several city supervisors and more than two dozen members of community organizations gathered at City Hall to show their support for ACA 6, nicknamed “Free the Vote.” Currently wending its way through Sacramento, ACA 6 would amend the California constitution and reinstate voting abilities for people who are on parole for a felony. It’s a policy 18 states and Washington, D.C. have in place, automatically reinstating voting rights once people are released from prison. Nevada and Colorado joined the list just this year.
Ten assemblymembers and state Senator Scott Wiener put forth the initiative in Sacramento, which could appear on the ballot sometime in 2020. If passed, nearly 50,000 Californians currently on parole would have their voting rights reinstated.
“In our democracy, we don’t cut people out,” said Supervisor Matt Haney, who introduced the resolution at the Board of Supervisors. “What we have right now is a disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of citizens of this state who are being denied a fundamental right. We know that our democracy is stronger when everybody is a part of it.”
San Francisco Public Defender Mano Raju expanded on this. “As someone who’s been in jails and has had conversation after conversation with incarcerated folks… we’re losing out. A lot of that wisdom we get from people on parole is something we’re losing in our civic discourse when people don’t have the right to vote,” he said.
The vast majority of people who have been put on parole or incarcerated in the United States are Latinx or African American — meaning that this issue is not just one of criminal justice reform, but the reversal of a racist method of voter suppression. And it’s particularly unfair when one considers the fact that frequent conditions of parole are that people have to have a job and pay taxes — yet they have no political say in where that money goes.
Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who sits on the Adult Probation Department’s Reentry Council, said that this change is long overdue.
“It is an antiquated way to silence the voices of people I want to hear from too,” she said. “Over 50,000 Californians are denied the right to vote. This is wrong. This is not an American thing to do, it’s not a Californian thing to do, and it’s not a San Franciscan thing to do.”
The resolution to support ACA 6 passed at the Rules Committee Monday. It still has to go to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote — but with Supervisors Haney, Fewer, Shamann Walton, Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen, Gordon Mar, and Vallie Brown signed on already, it looks likely to pass.