In California, people with a felony conviction can vote as long as they aren’t currently incarcerated in state or federal prison, on parole, or in county jail for a parole violation. Otherwise-eligible jail inmates are permitted to vote by mail.
Torres is one of the roughly 6,000 likely eligible voters who are detained in the Orange County jail at any given time that the ACLU of Southern California is trying to reach through a program it calls Unlock The Vote. They face a big obstacle: The Orange County Sheriff’s Department, currently led by Sandra Hutchens, won’t let them set foot inside the jail to talk about voting. Instead they must wait outside, across the street, where they approach inmates as they’re released and ask them to register.
It’s a mission that, at times, can seem quixotic. Around 30 inmates were released that Friday; the ACLU registered only four. But even if a fraction of those 6,000 current or since-released inmates vote in November, it could make a big difference….
It doesn’t have to be this hard to register people in jail. Just north of Orange County, the ACLU has been allowed inside the Los Angeles County jail to register inmates. They estimate they’ve registered about 4,000 people there. Efforts in jails in Chicago and New York, among other places, have also added new voters to the rolls.
Those numbers add up. There are 700,000 people detained in jails across the country who are likely eligible to vote, but don’t know they can. Forty-eight states strip people of their voting rights after they’re convicted of a felony. But people can still vote while they’re awaiting trial in jail or if they’re serving time for a misdemeanor.