Monday, January 26, 2009

Court Defines Felons Ineligible To Vote

Article II, Section 4 requires the Legislature to “provide for the disqualification of electors while mentally incompetent or imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony.” Elections Code Section 2101 implements that requirement, and provides that “[a] person entitled to register to vote shall be a United States citizen, a resident of California, not in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 18 years of age at the time of the next election.”

But what is a "felony" for purposes of this provision? In Legal Services for Prisoners with Children v. Bowen (here), the Court of Appeal rejected the petitioners' contention that disenfranchising felonies were limited to felonies at common law. Interestingly, though, the court did not discuss the history of the California Constitution or Elections Code Section 2101. Instead it focused on Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which exempts from the Equal Protection Clause found in Section 1 disenfranchisement for "participation in . . . crime." And it also explained why the limitation urged by Petitioners would be bad public policy: "If Petitioners’ argument were accepted, it would mean that someone convicted of larceny, a felony at common law, would not be allowed to vote, however modest the take. But the defendants in People v. Schoenfeld (1980) 111 Cal.App.3d 671, serving life sentences for kidnapping 27 children and burying them in a school bus for 28 hours, would. As would the serial child molester. And the drug kingpin. If that manifests a worthy public policy, it comes in a novel guise."

1 comment:

Tiffany said...