LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to expand voter education and registration for individuals who have spent time in jail or juvenile detention.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas recommended the outreach plan, saying many eligible voters don’t know their rights.
“There are still rampant misconceptions about voters rights, accessibility, and the qualifications of individuals with current or previous involvement with the criminal justice system to participate in elections,” Ridley-Thomas said, adding that the issue disproportionately affects people of color.
Ridley-Thomas’ motion cited a 2011 report by the Florida Parole Commission that found those leaving jail or prison with their voting rights restored had a recidivism rate one-third lower than those who did not have their rights restored.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger supported the planning effort, though she said she had some questions about how it would be rolled out.
“I think we all agree that your ability to vote is a privilege and is something that you should never give away,” Barger said. “I vote in every election … that’s my voice.”
The motion also aims to ensure that those in jail or coming out of jail have access to vital records like birth certificates and identification cards 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,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion. “Imagine trying to register for Social Security or rent an apartment without a personal identification card.”
The board directed the Office of Diversion and Reentry to work with the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk and other departments to develop a voter and civic engagement plan.
“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,” Kuehl said. “This board wants to strongly urge the participation of every person who is eligible to vote.”
A report is expected back in three months.
“Regardless of circumstance, every citizen is worthy of having their say, and active participation in the democratic process is still the loudest bullhorn,” Ridley-Thomas said.