In their regular meeting Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called for expanding a county voter education and registration plan for eligible individuals involved with the criminal justice system.
Authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Board Chair Sheila Kuehl, the motion directs the Office of Diversion and Reentry to collaborate with the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, as well as other county departments and community stakeholders, to develop a voter and civic engagement plan over the next three months.
“There are still rampant misconceptions about voter’s rights, accessibility, and the qualifications of individuals with current or previous involvement with the criminal justice system to participate in elections,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Voter ineligibility disproportionately affects people of color, especially African-Americans.”
“This motion intends to elevate and expand Los Angeles County’s current efforts to assist the disenfranchised to become more civically engaged,” he added. “Regardless of circumstance, every citizen is worthy of having their say, and active participation in the democratic process is still the loudest bullhorn.”
The Sentencing Project, a research and advocacy center based in Washington, D.C., estimates that nearly 6 million Americans are ineligible to vote because of laws targeting those with previous criminal convictions.
Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Board Chair Kuehl’s motion centers on improving civic and electoral engagement by expanding on and enhancing the County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s current program, Voting While Incarcerated. The motion would also ensure that youth and adults involved with justice system have access to vital records, such as birth certificates and I.D.’s, to help them reintegrate back into their communities.
“With this motion, we are moving to lessen one of the daunting barriers faced by men and women being released from jail who are trying to get back on their feet and become successful members of society,” Supervisor Kuehl said. “Imagine trying to register for social security or rent an apartment without a personal identification card.”
“I am also very happy that this motion prioritizes the right to vote by those who are eligible but in jail, on probation, or on post-release community supervision,” she added. “This Board wants to strongly urge the participation of every person who is eligible to vote.”
Judge Peter Espinoza, director of the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR), the entity tasked with leading the effort, said work is already underway to provide vital records to the mentally ill population coming out of the jails. He added, “Expanding access to vital records and educating those eligible to vote is an essential element of the holistic reentry process that ODR provides.”
Susan Burton, founder of the nonprofit A New Way of Life, which has been working since 2008 to register incarcerated voters, said her organization is helping train 75 volunteers to register incarcerated individuals to vote in time for the primary elections. “People who are eligible to vote need information, but they also need meaningful access to the ballot,” she said.