With 1 in 5 Californians justice-involved, LA County is using new voting centers like Banc of California stadium and vote-by-mail to ensure they can cast their ballots, a key element of their reentry into society.
LOS ANGELES — Today a coalition of LA County officials and community partners gathered safely and socially distanced at the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium early voting center to celebrate “LA Free the Vote,” an initiative to encourage individuals affected by the criminal justice system to understand and exercise their right to vote.
“In an election where the right to vote is being threatened in many parts of the country, LA County is proud to be working to restore voting rights to all eligible individuals,” said Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “People who have been involved with jail, prison or probation are disproportionately people of color, and their civic engagement is vital if our society is to reckon with its history of racial discrimination.”
This initiative, established by the Board of Supervisors, is co-led by the County’s Office of Diversion and Reentry and the Registrar/Recorder-County Clerk’s office, and brings together five other county agencies and non-profit community partners. In addition to registering justice system-involved voters, the initiative highlights the importance in voting and the broader civic conversation.
“People who vote lead healthier lives, and people who have the experience of system involvement make the strongest case to others in their shoes about the importance of exercising their right to vote,” said Judge Peter Espinoza, Director of the LA County Office of Diversion and Reentry. “ODR is proud to co-lead this initiative and to partner with courageous and inspiring system-impacted advocates because we believe that our society is at its best when the decisions we make at the ballot box are truly inclusive of all of us. The voices of those who have been in the justice system must be heard clearly when justice is on the ballot.”
People with justice system-involvement who can vote in L.A. County include those:
- on probation, including supervised release and adult felony probation
- out on bail
- in jail awaiting trial or sentencing
- in jail on an AB 109 felony (low-level felonies diverted to local jails under state realignment)
- in jail for any misdemeanor
As part of its reentry programming, Los Angeles County has taken a role of national leadership in civically engaging people impacted by the criminal justice system. Since 2018, members of the LA Free the Vote taskforce have helped register over 7,000 people impacted by the criminal justice system — 5,000 Angelenos in LA County jails through the County Sheriff’s Department and nonprofit partners, and over 2,000 in the reentry community. The initiative has also trained over 800 county staff and partners on voter eligibility and registration.
LA Free the Vote is also a natural extension of the County’s efforts to ensure that voting is easy and safe for all voters, including first-time voters. Vote-by-mail ballots were sent to the home of every voter registered by October 19th, and can be either mailed back (postage paid) or dropped off at any secure voting drop box or voting center (without waiting in line) in the county.
Those who have not already registered can register in person at any one of nearly 800 vote centers in the county through election day and then immediately cast a ballot. The Registrar/Recorder-County Clerk’s office has implemented extensive safety measures to protect voters from COVID-19: all election workers will wear protective gloves and masks, all surfaces and Ballot Marking Devices will be wiped and sanitized after each voter, social distancing will be maintained, and coverings and gloves will be made available to all voters who have not brought their own.
“We want every voter to know that it is safe and easy to vote, and that there is no better time to vote than right now,” said Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean Logan. “We want everyone to vote and to vote as early as possible to ensure the fastest, safest voting experience for all.”
One of those voting locations will be at the Los Angeles Football Club’s Banc of California Stadium as part of the club’s efforts to encourage voters to make their voices heard at the ballot box.
“We take great pride in being a force for good in the Los Angeles community, and we see it as both our honor and our duty to make our stadium available as a voting center for our neighbors and to highlight the important work of LA Free the Vote,” said LAFC Co-President Larry Freedman. “We hope every eligible Angeleno will likewise show their pride by registering and voting.”
LA Free the Vote’s effort to engage voters impacted by the criminal justice system also comes in an election with many opportunities for voters to shape the state’s and county’s justice systems.
“People who have lived the criminal justice system have a unique and visceral understanding of what a difference these offices and ballot initiatives could make in people’s lives,” said Susan Burton, founder and president of the reentry-focused community non-profit A New Way of Life and herself a justice system-impacted individual. “That’s why our voices as voters are so essential this election, from the presidential election at the top of the ballot all the way down to the local level at the bottom, where you vote on the officials and decisions that will make the greatest impact on your day-to-day life.”
Additional people with justice system experience lent their voices to LA Free the Vote to testify about the important role that being a voter plays in their lives.
“To me, voting is an expression of rights as a person and of my power as an equal member of society to make change in the world around me,” said Tim Kornegay, Justice Transformation Organizer for the community non-profit LA Voice. “With the LA Free the Vote initiative, the county is saying it recognizes the voice of the historically unheard. The initiative encourages us to be informed and vote in order to shape the programs and policies that impact our community.”
Above all, the members of the LA Free the Vote coalition hope that this year’s election will be the start of a life-long voting habit for individuals impacted by the criminal justice system.
“The more we vote, the more our elected officials will hear and respect the power of our voice and our advocacy,” said JJ Lamas, Supportive Services Specialist at the Center for Employment Opportunities. “So, to my justice-involved siblings, I say—tell your friends, tell your family, tell your community, and be an example yourself. The time to register and vote is now!” (Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/ County Clerk)