LA County Board of Supervisors

“Freeing the Vote” in LA County by Empowering Justice System-Involved Eligible Voters

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

In July, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl to create a “Voter Engagement Taskforce” focused on registering as many people involved in the criminal justice system in advance of the November 2018 general election as possible.

Two months later, LA County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry and the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk returned to the board with a status update on efforts to register and engage previously or currently justice-involved residents before the October 22 voter registration deadline.

So far, thousands of incarcerated individuals have been registered to vote this year—a mighty victory considering confusion over voting laws keeps eligible voters from exercising their right to vote, often out of fear of possible prosecution. (Horror stories like those of Keith Sellars and Whitney Brown certainly don’t encourage justice system-involved people to vote.)

California law currently disenfranchises people convicted of felonies who are serving time in state or federal prison or who are on parole. Californians with felonies on their records can, however, vote once they have completed parole.

People in jail may register and vote if they are serving a misdemeanor sentence (a misdemeanor never affects your right to vote), or if they are on probation, or in jail as a condition of probation, or serving a felony sentence in jail, or in jail awaiting trial.

Those citizens locked-up for non-serious felonies serving time in county jails or under county supervision through California’s prison realignment (AB 109), are also allowed to vote, a right that was clarified and affirmed by AB 2466, a bill Governor Jerry Brown signed in 2016.

Several thousand incarcerated individuals have registered to vote, but the Voter Engagement Taskforce’s work is far from over.

“The election is fast approaching, and we can’t afford to miss the opportunity to engage our justice-involved residents in the work of their democracy,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “The work and importance of this initiative go well beyond this November, however, as voting and civic engagement must be a lifetime commitment if it is to result in meaningful empowerment for these residents.”

The two county departments have teamed up to “Free the Vote” with LA County Probation, the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the Public Defender’s Office, the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and community groups like Susan Burton’s reentry-focused organization, A New Way of Life.

So far the coalition has helped to register approximately 1,000 inmates at Pitchess Detention Center and the Century Regional Detention Facility. And through a partnership with the ACLU’s “Unlock the Vote” campaign, more than 2,000 inmates registered to vote in advance of this year’s primary election. (The ACLU has been working hard to bring jailed individuals into the ranks of voting citizens, and is even launching a civic engagement course for inmates with the sheriff’s department, said Retired Judge Peter Espinoza, head of the Office of Diversion and Reentry.)

The taskforce plans to ramp up registration efforts at Twin Towers Correctional Facility as well as at Men’s Central Jail, the latter of which will host a special event on National Voter Registration Day, September 25.

The voter registration forms are numbered, so the taskforce can keep track of where the newly registered voters are coming from—whether they’re in the jails, on probation, or are involved with another county department or service.

In addition to the inventoried registration cards, the county agencies and community organizations created “Free the Vote” toolkit, posters, and informational handouts about voting and why it’s important. The coalition also conducted training sessions for county law enforcement, public defenders, and others, to promote voter registration and civic engagement.

Image courtesy of LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s office: A New Way of Life’s Manuel Galindo and Marcus McKinney, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Registrar/Recorder-County Clerk Dean Logan, and Office of Diversion and Reentry Director Judge (ret.) Peter Espinoza.


  • C: Truly few will care about this article. So, I have decided to write to you re my thoughts about this new liberal admiration for the late Senator John McCain.

    I have waited to respond as to pay respect to his family and respect for the dead. It was horrible that the man even politicized his death for a political end. The man wasn’t dead for ten minutes before the political rancor began. Had John McCain reached out and forgave all and asked for forgiveness to those he hurt badly, I would have written something far more different.

    Having served in combat for 13 months I have a first hand knowledge of bravery and cowardice. No one will know what they will do until the fight comes to you. I have heard John McCain speak of his captivity as well as Commander Carey and Everett Alvarez Jr. who were all with John McCain during the time when the “liberators” were torturing and murdering our own flyers but also their own people. Communism and Socialism always demands compliance.

    Senator McCain’s actions during his capture were heroic and above reproach. Please note that all of them gave up information due to excruciating pain from the torture. But, for liberal neo-progs socialist to praise John McCain now is totally hypocritical. In the election McCain lost to Obama the neo-progs called for McCain’s death and the name calling was just plain horrible. CNN called into question McCain’s service and was ridiculed. McCain campaigned to end Obamacare (or Obama death) but then changed his mind solely because McCain hated President Trump. McCain started this fight by calling anyone who supported Candidate Trump “a bunch of crazies.” That’s when Candidate Trump lashed back at McCain. It was politics a usual but McCain would not let it go. Ask yourself would all this neo-prog praise happened had McCain not voted the way he did on Obamacare? NO THEY WOULD NOT! Would this praise happened had McCain praised President Trump for all the progress that America has made? NO THEY WOULD NOT! In McCain’s last election he would have lost had it not been for Sarah Palin campaigning for him all over the State of Arizona. And how does McCain thank her? By not inviting the Palin’s to his funeral. Sarah Palin has not ever uttered one word against John McCain. And wasn’t it John McCain who selected her? I liked Senator McCain but to praise him like he was a saint was wrong. He had a notorious temper and his womanizing has been well documented. The point? He was a man with many faults and still maintained as much character as he could. He was a Navy Aviator of his time.

    There were two outright informers, Edison Miller and Walter Wilbur who gave information and betrayed their country. Please read the World of Epictetus by Admiral James Bond Stockdale who wrote about the torture of the POW’s and behavior of these two informers. Who was James Stockdale? He was Ross Perot’s running mate and the the neo-prog press ridiculed Admiral Stockdale for turning down his hearing aid during a debate. The admiral was hit repeatedly with a heavy board by his “liberators” and perforated his eardrum. This traitorous behavior by Miller and Wilbur was also reported by John McCain and others. Miller was appointed by Moonbeam Jerry Brown as a Supervisor to OC but quickly voted out. How amazing that Jerry appointed this person and not a true hero? Politics as usual!

    John McCain was a hero but to have Jerry Brown praise these two informers was typical of the socialist left in America. Sal Alinsky would be turning over in his grave, laughing.

    I am truly saddened that John McCain died before he could forgive all, as we all should do. Regardless, if you believe in God or nothing at all what good is served to hang on to old grudges?

    C: Go ahead and erase this if you wish. It’s your site and you worked hard to keep it going. But, next time try to look at facts and less emotion. Take Care and God Bless

  • Editor’s Note:

    Dear “Um,”

    I appreciate your thoughtful and informative comment. There are many things on which we disagree, but I respect your knowledgeable perspective. I think one of our main differences would be the brightly drawn political labels. (I had to look up “neo-prog.”) Most people I know well, on the right or the left, don’t fit neatly into one political basket. At least that has always been my experience. As for Senator McCain, for a long, long time he has had fans on the right and the left, who appreciated many things about him, while also disagreeing with him on a great many things, and seeing his “many faults,” some of which you pointed out. Nevertheless, it was hard not to like the guy. When he died, we felt WLA needed to honor him. He has been, after all, an important figure in American politics. So I wrote a quick essay I hoped reflected that perspective, but that I also hoped was balanced, and acknowledged his downsides. Had you been writing it, yours too would have shown pros and cons, as your comment above reflects, but it would have been quite different from what I wrote, I imagine, since you come from a different perspective.

    Thanks again for your comment, and for your intelligent and thoughtful presence here.



  • I don’t blame anyone for highjacking the comment section, most of the stories are just plain awful anyways. Having said that, I’m against encouraging drunks, drug addicts, thieves, thugs, punks, con men, and all other manor of low level criminals (ie justice involved residents) to vote. Of course witness la encourages self serving politicians in their endeavors to get re-elected, ever get the feeling lefties don’t really like middle class Americans very much?

  • 1) Many people care about this article and issue. Just take a look at how much it was in other news sources last week.

    2) Most of WitnessLA’s stories are extremely helpful to communities and advocates. They have informed our advocacy here at ACLU.

    3) In a true democracy, everyone has a voice. Most of the developed world still allows incarcerated people to have a voice. Making a mistake does not disqualify you from having input about your government.

    4) Keep up the great work, WitnessLA!

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