Many Californians believe a criminal conviction can keep them from voting.
You can register to vote and vote if you are:
A United States citizen and a resident of California,
- 18 years old or older on Election Day,
- Not currently in state or federal prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and
- Not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court (for more information, please see Voting Rights: Persons Subject to Conservatorship).
Persons with a criminal history who can register to vote:
- In county jail:
- serving a misdemeanor sentence (a misdemeanor never affects your right to vote)
- Because jail time is a condition of probation (misdemeanor or felony)
- Serving a felony jail sentence
- Awaiting trial
- On probation
- On mandatory supervision
- On post-release community supervision
- On federal supervised release
- A person with a juvenile wardship adjudication
Persons with a criminal history who cannot register and vote:
- Currently imprisoned in:
- State prison
- Federal prison
- Currently serving a state prison felony sentence in a county jail or other correctional facility*
- Currently on parole with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
- Once you are done with parole your right to vote is restored, but you must re-register online at RegisterToVote.ca.gov or by filling out a paper voter registration card.
Under the 2011 Criminal Justice Realignment Act (Realignment) and specifically California Penal Code section 1170(h), low-level felons are sentenced to county jail and/or supervision by the county probation department instead of state prison. Realignment has caused some confusion about voting rights among people who have criminal convictions. The chart above provides an explanation of who can and who cannot register to vote in California.
*California Penal Code section 2910 allows the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to make agreements with local governments to house felons in a county jail or other correctional facility. A person serving a state prison sentence who is housed in a local jail or other facility under these circumstances is not allowed to register and vote. For more information, please visit CDCR’s website http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/realignment/index.html.
If you are unsure of what type of sentence you are serving, ask your probation officer, parole officer, or staff at your correctional facility.
How to Register to Vote
You may request a voter registration card from the Secretary of State or your county elections office. If you are in jail, you are entitled to receive a voter registration card if you are eligible to vote.
You may also apply to register to vote on the Secretary of State’s website RegisterToVote.ca.gov. Your voter registration application must be received or postmarked at least fifteen (15) days before Election Day to be eligible to vote in that election. In elections conducted by your county elections official, you can “conditionally” register and vote provisionally at your county elections office after the 15-day voter registration deadline. For more information please go to the Secretary of State’s webpage on conditional registration and voting (http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voter-registration/conditional-voter-reg/) or contact your county elections official.
Voter registration cards and voting materials are available in English, Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese. Voter registration cards are available at most public libraries and government offices. See the attached list for state and local elections office contact information.
Vote by Mail
If you are already registered to vote at your current home address, you may request a vote-by-mail ballot application by contacting your county elections office. Once you receive your vote-by-mail ballot application, you must complete and return it to your county elections office at least seven (7) days before Election Day.
If you are not registered to vote at your current home address, you may register or re-register to vote and request a vote-by-mail ballot on the Secretary of State’s website RegisterToVote.ca.gov.
Release from Custody
If you requested a vote-by-mail ballot but are released from custody before you receive your ballot, you can still vote. Just go to the polling place for your home address or any polling place in the county where you are registered and vote a provisional ballot.
If you change your name, home address, mailing address, or party preference you must complete a new voter registration card.
For more information on your voting rights click here Fact Sheet