ACLU notes from Sacramento…parolee voting rights, police body cameras, etc.

Dorsey Nunn by Gigi Pandian Let Me Vote Aug 2014/ACLU

State Assembly votes to restore voting rights to nearly 50,000 Californians on parole

The California State Assembly passed Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA) 6, which would restore voting rights to nearly 50,000 Californians on parole. ACA 6, authored by Asm. Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), passed with a 54-16 vote. ACA 6 will next go through the California State Senate, where it will need a 2/3 majority to pass.

If it passes through the Senate, the constitutional amendment will appear on the 2020 ballot, at which point California voters will have the opportunity to re-enfranchise their neighbors on parole. Because the measure is an amendment to the California Constitution, it must be approved by the voters of California.

“Voting is a fundamental right of citizenship,” said Sam Lewis, Executive Director of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC). “Each election missed by someone living in our community is a lost opportunity to shape the future of our country. The time is now for California to join the growing national movement to strengthen our democracy by empowering everyone—regardless of their past involvement with the criminal legal system—to have their voices counted.”

Currently, otherwise-eligible adults can vote while they are on most forms of community supervision – including probation, county Post-Release Community Supervision, and federal supervised release – but cannot vote while they are on parole.

“The removal of the right to vote is not based in an interest in public safety,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, Founder & Executive Director of Initiate Justice. “Rather, it is rooted in a punitive justice belief system that intentionally attempts to rob marginalized people of their political power.”

ACA 6, co-sponsored by California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, would address the history of racial oppression behind California’s felony disenfranchisement laws. Three of every four men leaving California prisons are either African American, Latino, or Asian American. Black Americans are four times more likely to experience felony disenfranchisement than are white Americans. This constitutional amendment will roll back a form of voter suppression currently facing Californians of color and will signal to all Californians that their voices matter.

“Felony disenfranchisement is simply another term for voter suppression,” said Dorsey Nunn, Executive Director at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC). “Californians on parole are constituents, taxpayers, and business owners—they have families, they are your neighbors. Laws affect their lives and the lives of their families and, as citizens, they should have a voice in this democracy.”

An estimated 4.6 million people nationwide are unable to vote because of a felony conviction. Currently, just under 50,000 people on parole throughout California—working, paying taxes, raising families in their communities—are unable to vote in any local, state, or federal elections. In 16 other states and the District of Columbia a person’s right to vote is automatically restored after their release from prison.

Two states (Maine, Vermont) have no disenfranchisement for people with convictions. This year, Nevada and Colorado restored voting rights to approximately 87,000 people on parole and last year, New York, Louisiana, Florida collectively restored voting rights to almost 2 million formerly incarcerated people.

“California suppresses Black and Brown votes by design,” said Brittany Stonesifer, voting rights attorney with the ACLU of California. “Through discriminatory policing, incarceration, and felony disenfranchisement, California systemically locks people of color out of the ballot box. We applaud lawmakers for voting to advance racial justice and strengthen our democracy with ACA 6.”

Restoring the right to vote to people on parole is part of a long struggle in our nation’s history to make the franchise fairer and more inclusive.

“Today is another step toward the restoration of voting rights for nearly 50,000 Californians, an important victory for our democracy,” said Dora Rose, Deputy Director of the League of Women Voters of California. “This moves us closer to fulfilling a promise the League made 100 years ago when the 19th Amendment was passed. No one is free until we’re all free.”

ACA 6 is co-authored by Asms. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Los Angeles), Rob Stone (D-Monterey Bay), Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Mike Gipson (D-Carson), Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), Kevin Mullin (D-South San Francisco), Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

California Senate Votes to Block Face Recognition on Police Body Cameras

Police officers separate demonstators during an America First rally in Laguna Beach, California, U.S., August 20, 2017./File Photo

The California Senate passed AB 1215: The Body Camera Accountability Act, legislation to block law enforcement agencies from using facial recognition surveillance against Californians on officer-worn body cameras. Introduced by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), AB 1215 passed the Senate just weeks after the ACLU released test results showing that facial recognition software incorrectly “matched” 26 California state lawmakers with mugshot photos from an arrestee database.

“Face-scanning police body cameras have no place on our streets, where they can be used for dragnet surveillance of Californians, our locations, and our personal associations,” said Matt Cagle, Technology and Civil Liberties Attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. “AB 1215 helps ensure Californians don’t become test subjects for an invasive and dangerous tracking technology that undermines our most fundamental civil liberties and human rights.”

Throughout the country and across the world, concerns over use of facial recognition software have mounted in recent years. Multiple studies have found that prominent facial recognition products are less accurate when used against people of color, women, and young people, raising concerns among civil rights advocates that adding the technology to police body cameras could have disastrous results.

Human rights concerns have also risen worldwide after reports detailing the Chinese government’s use of facial recognition technology to track and  detain members of a largely Muslim minority.

Recognizing the dangers of mixing police body cameras and facial recognition technology, technology companies themselves have drawn a line in the sand. Axon, a prominent body camera manufacturer, announced in June that it would not add facial recognition to its body camera systems for the foreseeable future.

Among other companies, Microsoft has also refused to allow a California law enforcement agency to use its facial recognition technology with police body cameras, citing human rights concerns.

AB 1215, which was recently amended by Assemblymember Ting to include a three-year sunset provision, requires a final concurrence vote in the Assembly before heading to the Governor’s desk.

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