Did You Know You Can Vote From Jail? County Inmates Didn't

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Common help a Men's Central Jail inmate register to vote. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Chan / L.A. County Board of Supervisors)

Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day. Have you registered to vote?

That's okay if you haven't yet. About a fifth of eligible voters in L.A. County haven't either. And there's still almost a month left to do it. That's why there were registration drives all over the region. There was even one at the L.A. County Jail.

County officials partnered with The American Civil Liberties Union for its "Unlock the Vote" project. It's all about educating people in the justice system about their rights to vote, and registering them to do it in November.

Rapper Common stands on the steps of the LA County Jail and discusses importance of giving inmates the opportunity to vote. Photo by Caleigh Wells.

Esther Lim is the Director of ACLU SoCal's jail project. She says many jail inmates have misconceptions about their rights.

"Misinformation and lack of information all equate to voter suppression, especially when talking about people who are incarcerated," she says. "Because someone is behind bars does not preclude them from participating in our most important right: the right to vote."

She says because of that, many of the nearly two-thirds of inmates in LA County jails don't realize they can participate in elections. So out of the 17,000 people incarcerated, that's about 10,000 votes.

To help publicize the effort, rapper and activist "Common" also went along to register inmates. He said educating people who are marginalized is especially important.

"I think the vote is one of the first steps that we can do as people in this country to show that we care and people have made mistakes, but we're still reaching out for them. That's what America is supposed to be about."

TO VOTE, YOU MUST BE:

  • At least 18 years old on Election Day (that's Nov. 6 this year)
  • A US citizen
  • A California resident (to vote in California)

TO VOTE, YOU MUST NOT BE:

  • Serving a federal or state prison sentence for a felony conviction
  • On parole for a felony conviction
  • Deemed mentally incompetent to vote by a court

Which means a jail inmate, who's there on a misdemeanor or pending trial, is eligible to register. If you want to know more about voting and having a criminal history, this spells it out pretty well.


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