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In California Ex-Felons Can Vote

Black Voice News, News Report, Chris Levister Posted: Oct 20, 2008

Undaunted by the heat, ex-felon Curtis Griffin spends his late summer afternoons walking Rialto and Fontana's bleakest neighborhoods on the hunt for ex-cons - each a potential voter who might cast the decisive ballot in the historic November 4 national election.

Finding them isn't the hard part, explains Griffin, it's getting them to admit that a past mistake has kept them from the ballot box.

At voter registration events like this, activists and election officials are spreading the word: For the record, felons can vote

"Most ex-felons out here are under the false assumption they can't vote. In California you can vote! There's a lot of misinformation and confusion out there."

That's an understatement. Consider this: a 2001 U.S. Civil Rights Commission report concluded that the disenfranchisement of ex-convicts is "the biggest hindrance to Black voting since the poll tax."

The racial impact of racial disenfranchisement laws is particularly egregious. Thirteen percent of all Black men - 1.4 million cannot vote due to a patchwork of voting restrictions and the paralyzing grip of post Civil War Jim Crow laws. That represents just over one-third (36 percent) of the total disenfranchised population blocked from the vote even after they have completed their sentence and paid their debt to society: a rate seven times that of any other group in America.

The effects of voter disenfranchisement are universal except for Maine and Vermont, all states deprive individuals with felony convictions of the right to vote for varying periods of time.

In California where the criminal justice system remains particularly rife with racial disparities, advocates like Griffin and nonprofits groups like Voting Rights for All are hard at work spreading the word: "In California ex-felons can vote."

Under California law, people with felony convictions can register to vote if they are out of prison (fully served their sentences) and off parole.

Although most of the state's voting code was passed in 1974, these important legal rights have been mostly hidden, unspoken and unknown by the general public.

Last week during a Bible study at the Rock Church in San Bernardino, Melvin Stokes lamented about felons not having the right to vote.

"I've always wanted to vote... it has always been told to me that if you were convicted of a felony, you can't vote," said the ex-felon who has been off parole 10 years.

The misconception is not just among ex-felons. "I thought people convicted of felonies lost their right to vote. I see now it must be a common misconception," said a retired Alameda County judge, quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle, October 16, 2004.

To return to the ballot box, felons must negotiate suffrage laws that vary from state to state, in many cases working with election officials, parole officers and judges who can be both unfamiliar with the law and hostile to former convicts seeking to register.

Such challenges matter little to Griffin and others trying to return former criminals to voter rolls, an effort they consider crucial in light of the results of the past two presidential elections: A shift of a few hundred votes in Florida in 2000 would have changed the outcome of the presidential race, and the results in 2004 came down to a margin of 119,000 votes in Ohio.

The nonprofits groups and individual activists making the push on felons' behalf agree the effort is broader this year than in previous elections. They expect the effort to benefit Barack Obama more than John McCain, given that the population of former felons is disproportionately Black.

Who Can Register?

A person entitled to register to vote must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of California, not in prison or on parole for the conviction of a felony, and at least 18 years of age.

You can vote after you have completed parole. There is no waiting period and you do not have to prove that you are off parole. Election officials have access to parole status data. You can vote if you are on probation, or have completed probation. If you have been charged with a felony but not yet been convicted; If you have been convicted of a felony but are in county jail and not in state prison.

You must register by October 20. Pick up a registration form at your local library or post office. If you are in county jail, ask a friend or family member to pick up a form for you or request one through jail authorities.

Use your home address or your residence address. The registration form is a legal document that requires your signature and either a California driver's license/ID card number or the last four digits of your Social Security number. If you are not sure you are registered, voting officials encourage you to register again.

Related Articles:

Arizona Sees Record Voter Registration

Beware of Accidental Disenfranchisement

Study Shows How to Increase Low-Income and Ethnic Voter Turnout

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