A New Way of Life Launches Jail Voter Registration Efforts

By Christin Runkle

Photos by Louisa St. Aubyn

Last month, A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project (ANWOL) held its 6th annual training for volunteers wanting to undertake voter registration efforts in LA County jails. More than 50 volunteers came out to Watts Labor Community Action Center to learn from representatives of the County Registrar-Recorder’s office, who said the turnout was one of the highest they had ever seen for a voter registration training.

“We are committed to continuing to educate those being held in LA County jails and going into the jail to register those eligible to vote,” says ANWOL founder Susan Burton.

The training was sponsored by ANWOL — an organization in South LA that provides housing for women leaving prison and advocates on a variety of issues pertaining to mass incarceration — and its sister organization All of Us or None, a national grassroots community organizing effort that works to remove discriminatory policies and practices affecting formerly incarcerated individuals.

The initiative complements ANWOL’s ongoing work to register voters in communities of color in South LA, Compton, Pomona and Long Beach and provide education around ballot initiatives including Prop. 47, Measure M and Measure H. To further these voter turnout efforts, in 2016 ANWOL joined forces with the African American Civic Engagement Project, which comprises more than 150 leaders from 12 California social justice groups.

“Our desire is to help the African American community understand that our vote counts. We also want to cut through the misinformation that’s out there and let people with conviction histories know that they can vote too. Voting is our tool, but often, people become disenfranchised without even knowing it,” says Ingrid Archie, ANWOL’s civic engagement specialist.

During the training, Alva Gomez, community and voter outreach representative for the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office, walked participants through the complexities of correctly filling out voter registration forms for potential voters who are currently in jail.

She also cleared up misconceptions about voting. Some of the most disenfranchised people in California are those who are currently in jail or who have prior convictions. Because of confusion regarding who can and cannot vote, many people with current or past convictions don’t even bother to register. There are an estimated 16,000-18,000 people being held in LA County jails who are eligible to vote, but many of them are unaware of their right to do so.

According to the Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office, people who meet the following conditions can still vote:

On probation, under post-release community supervision or under mandatory supervision

Facing pending felony charges but not yet convicted

In county jail (unless they are there because of a parole violation or awaiting transfer to state or federal prison)

However, people who are currently incarcerated in California state prison or federal prison and those who are on California state parole cannot currently vote.

Starting in May, ANWOL volunteers who have received clearance to enter jail will begin voter registration efforts in five Los Angeles County jails. ANWOL’s past efforts at voter registration in jails have yielded positive results. Over a two-week period leading up to the November 2016 general election, ANWOL volunteers went into Twin Towers Correctional Facility, Century Regional Detention Facility (Lynwood) and Men’s Central Jail and registered 1,100 individuals to vote. The LA County Recorder’s Office documented that nearly 600 of these actually voted.

“This is a clear indication that incarcerated folk and formerly incarcerated folk, contrary to stigmatization, not only desire but will exercise their civic duty when properly and duly informed,” says Larry Foy, policy director at A New Way of Life.

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