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San Diego Hip-Hop Artists Teaming Up To Get Out The Vote Among Ex-Offenders

A campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union of California features men a...

Credit: American Civil Liberties Union of California

Above: A campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union of California features men and women holding signs that read "Let me vote" to help spread the word that many people who have spent time in jail or prison are allowed to vote in California.


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When Convicted Felons Can Vote

When Convicted Felons Can Vote

The American Civil Liberties Union of California is circulating cards aimed at clearing up misconceptions about voting rights for people who have spent time behind bars.

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It's a persistent rumor in black and brown neighborhoods: if you've been to jail or prison you can't vote. The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties is teaming up with local hip-hop artists to debunk that myth.

They'll bring their rhymes to a Barrio Logan music venue, The Church, 6:30 p.m. Friday. Between sets, they'll pass the mic to community activists versed in voter registration laws and the November ballot. The goal is to get out the vote among the formerly incarcerated.

Parker Edison of hip-hop duo Parker and the Numberman grew up in the southeastern San Diego neighborhood of Paradise Hills and said many voices there aren't being heard because people with criminal records often don't believe they can vote.

"Sometimes you get caught up in this red tape and just the sheer confusion of it keeps you from being a part of your community and voting and such," Edison said.

Individuals convicted of a misdemeanor can always vote. Most with felonies must first finish up their sentence, including any supervision required once they've been released.

But most states, including California, have had laws on their books at some point in history that revoked voting rights completely for convicted felons. Though California voters lifted the ban for felons who have served their time in 1974, confusion remains on the streets and at the State Capitol.

The state constitution only lays out voting provisions for offenders under state supervision – in prison or on parole. But earlier this year, Secretary of State Debra Bowen issued a memo stating individuals whose state sentences moved to county jails or county probation departments under prison realignment also could not vote.

In May, a judge ruled Bowen's interpretation was unconstitutional. The state is appealing his decision, so the rules are still fuzzy for men and women returning home from prison.

Prison realignment created hybrids of state parole and county probation sentences to shift offenders from the overcrowded prison system to counties.

As it stands now, convicted felons must complete whichever form of supervision a judge assigns after they get out of prison, before they can vote.

"Voting rights are more confusing now than they have ever been in recent history," said Jess Jollett, a spokeswoman for the local ACLU.

Friday's event aims to clear up some of the confusion. And Edison said it could have a meaningful impact if it allows people who are reentering society from the criminal justice system to engage in civic life.

"The biggest thing that the whole jail process does is it makes people feel like they're just a number and they're kind of meaningless," Edison said. "And that's more dangerous than anything, because if people don't care to elevate – they don't feel they can elevate – they just won't."

Parker and the Numberman will share the stage with DJ Collagey, Odessa Kane, Big June, Miki Vale and Real J Wallace.


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