Jose Armendariz, 30, has never been able to vote.
Sentenced to 90 years to life in prison at 16, Armendariz is barred from casting a ballot by California’s felony disenfranchisement laws.
But after learning that many of those behind bars can cast ballots, he has become an inside organizer for Unlock the Vote, an American Civil Liberties Union project aimed at registering voters in Southern California jails. Armendariz goes cell-to-cell at Orange County’s Theo Lacy Jail, educating people about their eligibility and helping them request a mail-in ballot.
Tens of thousands of people incarcerated in county jails are eligible to vote under California law, but many will not cast ballots this election, according to Daisy Ramirez, Jails Conditions and Policy Coordinator at the ACLU of Southern California. Some are not aware they can vote or are misinformed about their eligibility, while others who are registered haven’t received a ballot because of jail mail delays. This year, the pandemic has complicated efforts to overcome those barriers. Advocates who typically would enter jails to help potential voters have not been given access.
“Most people in county jails can vote,” said Brittany Stonesifer, voting rights attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. “That includes anyone who’s awaiting trial for any crime, anyone who is in county jail for a misdemeanor, anyone who is in county jail” for certain felonies as dictated by state law.
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