SACRAMENTO, Calif. -

An Alameda County Superior Court judge has ruled that Secretary of State Debra Bowen erred by deciding that tens of thousands of criminals who are serving their sentences under community supervision are ineligible to vote.

The ruling Wednesday stems from California's three-year-old criminal justice realignment law, which is reducing overcrowding in state prisons by sentencing those convicted of less serious crimes to county jails or alternative treatment programs.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups sued on behalf of nearly 60,000 convicts who previously would have been ineligible to vote because they were on state parole. They are now sentenced either to mandatory supervision or post-release community supervision, but Bowen decided that is equivalent to parole.

The judge rejected that interpretation. Bowen's office did not return repeated telephone messages.