All of Us or None (AOUON), a California-based grassroots organization fighting for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people, sent demand letters today to ten California county registrar’s offices and courts believed to be unlawfully triggering the removal of people with conviction histories from electoral rolls — with more than 3,000 eligible voters estimated to have been removed in 2017 in Los Angeles County alone.
AOUON has found evidence that these government agencies — which span ten counties, including Butte, Contra Costa, Kings, Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Clara, Solano, Tulare, Ventura and Orange — have been violating recent legislation that preserves voting rights for people convicted of a felony under AB 109 Public Safety Realignment. The demand letters ask that the agencies immediately reinstate these voters’ registrations, send notices to alert the voters to the error, and fix their systems to ensure that such violations do not happen again.
“We’re a national organization of formerly incarcerated individuals with a history of fighting for and winning the voting rights of people with convictions, and we are prepared to take necessary action to correct unlawful practices that violate our right to vote.” says Lisa James, AOUON-Los Angeles/Long Beach organizer.
Voting after Realignment has a confusing history, but the law is now clear
In 2011, a major California criminal justice reform — commonly known as “Realignment” — changed the law to require that people with non-serious, non-violent, or non-sexual felonies be sentenced to county jail or probation, instead of state prison. Since the California Constitution disenfranchises only those who are “imprisoned or on parole for the conviction of a felony,” the voting eligibility of those serving felony sentences in county jail under Realignment was unclear for several years. Following a successful legal battle brought by AOUON and other community allies against the Secretary of State, the State Legislature ultimately passed AB 2466 to clarify that Californians who are convicted of county Realignment felonies retain their right to vote. As of January 1, 2017, state elections law requires local courts to provide to the county registrar a monthly list of people “committed to state prison.” The registrar is then required to cancel the registrations of people currently in prison or on parole.
“The government’s ongoing confusion about the law leads to the continuing disenfranchisement of the very population historically subject to de facto disenfranchisement — from the Fifteenth Amendment to Jim Crow,” James says.
Educational efforts and voter outreach are critical
The last day to register to vote in the California primary election is May 21. For people who are currently in county jail, the deadline to request mail-in ballots is May 29. Even if registrar’s offices in these ten counties re-enroll voters quickly, outreach efforts are crucial to ensuring that people with Realignment convictions know that they can, in fact, vote. AOUON is asking these registrar’s offices to engage in public education on the right to vote with a felony, but it will also continue its own outreach efforts. During the last two presidential general elections, AOUON-Los Angeles/Long Beach has done voter registration drives in Los Angeles County jails that have yielded more than 1,700 registrations in total.
“As we restore voting rights to people incarcerated in jails, we need to establish a process to ensure everyone inside knows their rights and has timely access to registration forms and ballots before elections,” says Dorsey Nunn, co-founder of All of Us or None and executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children in San Francisco. “We also need formerly incarcerated people to be able to go into jails to do some of this voter outreach — we have the unique experience to know that voting instills a sense of ownership in both ourselves and our communities.”
About All of Us or None
All of Us or None is a grassroots civil and human rights organization fighting for the rights of formerly and currently incarcerated people and our families. We are fighting against the discrimination that people face every day because of arrest or conviction history. The goal of All of Us or None is to strengthen the voices of people most affected by mass incarceration and the growth of the prison-industrial complex. All of Us or None is a project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, with the SoCal chapters sponsored by A New Way of Life Reentry Project.