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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Getting out the in-jail vote

Getting out the in-jail vote

By Sarah Phelan

Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Eileen Hirst reminded me today that 75-80 percent of the people behind bars at the San Francisco County Jail are still in the pre-trial stage. Hirst first shared that stastic with me earlier this year, when the jail got dumped from the list of buildings that will be earthquake retrofitted, if voters approve Proposition A this fall.

And today the percentage resurfaced in the context of efforts to get out the vote. Because if your case is pre-trial, this means that you have not yet been found guilty and so are still eligible to vote—provided that you are not on parole for a felony conviction. And with several races and measures still in play on the ballot, this means that in-jail voters could be of pivotal importance this November.

Either way, Hirst tells me that the Department of Elections and the Sheriff's Department are working hard to educate inmates about their voting rights.

“We have an office called Prisoners Legal Services, where they do voter education and facilitate applications for absentee ballots,” Hirst said. “We work closely with the Department of Elections to make sure prisoners are aware of their rights, and we carry applications and absentee ballots back and forth, between Elections and the jail.”

According to the Department of Elections’ Voting Guide for Ex-Offenders, a person who has been convicted of a felony can still register and vote if they have completed their prison term for a felony, including any period of parole or supervised release.

are on federal or state probation; and/or are incarcerated in county jail as a condition of felony probation or as a result of a misdemeanor sentence.

"If you have been convicted of a misdemeanor, you can register and vote, even while on probation, supervised release, or incarcerated in county jail,” the Elections Department brochure states.

“To restore your right to vote if you have been convicted of a felony, you only need to complete and return a voter registration form,” the brochure continues. “No other documentation is required.”

Hirst estimated that on any given day, there are 1800-1825 prisoners at the county jail, but she did not have up-to-date information on which districts these prisoners are from.

“Years and years ago, we did a pin map by hand, and we found that they came from every district in town, but were concentrated in the Bayview, the Western Addition and the Mission,” Hirst recalled.

She noted that the county jail population is 50-55 percent African American, 25-30 percent Latino, and the remainder is “white, Asians and other”—statistics that suggest that the D10 and D6 races will likely be the most impacted by the in-prison vote.

She also noted that C.L.A.E.R. executive director Sharen Hewitt has been one of the leading figures in San Francisco in terms of getting out the in-jail vote.

“Sharen really made it a priority and educated a lot of prisoners,” Hirst said.

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