October 15, 2008 - Voting rights in jail
Paper: Oakland Tribune, The (CA)
Title: Voting rights in jail
Date: October 15, 2008
Author: Letters from our readers
MANY JAIL INMATES are under what Contra Costa County Public Defender David Coleman says is a common misconception that people who have been convicted of a crime can't vote. That's not so and Contra Costa is making an effort to educate jail inmates.
In California, voting rights are denied only to people in state prison or who are on parole on Election Day. Those in county jails or on probation are eligible.
The county public defender's office and the sheriff's office have teamed up to make sure that the 1,400 people held within the county jails will be able to exercise their right to vote. The deputies who run the jails and the public defenders who represent a number of these inmates are taking proactive steps, such as posting fliers outlining voting laws in jail housing modules and the lobby of the public defender's office.
Ernesto Lara, a civilian jail specialist for the sheriff's office, hands out voter education literature at the county jails, and inmates are informed of the rights during facility inspections. This is particularly important, because inmates are usually surprised to learn they are eligible to vote, and are willing to participate.
Lara even makes sure that registered voters in jail receive their ballots and he separates the ballots from the regular mail so ballots are received by the county Registrar of Voters before the deadline.
From the sheriff's office to the public defenders, this is definitely beyond the call of duty. In such a significant election as the one on Nov. 4, it's important that anyone who is eligible to vote is given the opportunity, even inmates.
However, Contra Costa's proactive approach could be an isolated situation in California. A group of advocates called All of Us or None is attempting to set up a voter registration table outside Santa Rita Jail, but is meeting with a lukewarm response.
The group is also investigating a claim by 15 inmates in Santa Clara County that their requests for voter registration cards is being ignored. In Los Angeles County, there is a line in the inmate voter guide that reads "You cannot register to vote if you are an inmate currently convicted of a felony." Not always true.
We would like to see all county jail systems in California follow Contra Costa's example. Some of the inmates in the county jails are simply awaiting trial. Yes, many of them have committed crimes, but the law allows them to vote and they should be informed of that right and provided appropriate materials.
Section: Opinion Editorials
Record Number: 10718763
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