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Human Rights on the Ballot in California

Voters to Decide on Measures Affecting Criminal Legal System and Workers’ Rights

A mail-in ballot from the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder for the November 3 election, September 5, 2020.  © 2020 Ted Soqui/Sipa via AP Images

Early voting has begun in California, and over the next month, voters will have the opportunity to protect human rights in the most populous state in the United States. Basic rights are at stake in at least four measures on this year’s ballot. Human Rights Watch has studied each of these four ballot proposals and recommends the following votes:

Yes on Proposition 17, which would restore voting rights to people disenfranchised while serving a prison term as soon as they complete their sentence. This initiative would respect the voting rights of all citizens, regardless of criminal conviction, upon release from incarceration, including people under probation or parole supervision or who owe fines or fees. It would mark an important step towards fulfilling the state’s obligation under international human rights law to ensure voting rights for all citizens.

No on Proposition 20, which seeks to roll back California’s recent criminal legal system reforms. Proposition 20 would empower prosecutors to charge certain property offenses, including theft of property valued over US$250, as felonies rather than misdemeanors, allowing for longer prison or jail sentences and other harmful consequences. It would prevent people incarcerated for certain non-violent offenses from applying for early parole release and would require law enforcement to collect DNA samples from people convicted of certain misdemeanors. If passed, Proposition 20 will likely increase California’s prison and jail populations.

No on Proposition 22, an initiative that would create a third, substandard regulatory category for app-based workers in California, falling between employees and independent contractors. This plan would roll back minimum wage, paid sick leave, unemployment benefits, overtime pay, and other labor protections for these workers. Human Rights Watch research shows that, if Proposition 22 is successful, workers in the online grocery industry could face financial hardship, hunger, and poverty. 

No on Proposition 25, which, if passed, would replace the unjust money bail system with an even more discriminatory system. This proposition would empower judges to detain people pretrial without any possibility of release and would institute racially biased algorithmic risk assessment tools to determine release eligibility. It increases funding and power for probation departments to supervise and monitor people who haven’t been convicted of a crime.  Proposition 25 would likely increase pretrial incarceration and, by increasing funding to law enforcement and entrenching more power with judges, may make achieving meaningful criminal justice reform in California even more difficult.

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