Sunday, August 17, 2008

Voter registration drive at the county jail

OAKLAND — Many visitors who came to the Glen Dyer Detention Facility on Saturday said they were unaware that some of their loved ones serving time inside the county jail have the right to vote.

All of Us or None, a national initiative of formerly incarcerated people, prisoners and their families sponsored a voter education and registration drive at the jail, 550 Sixth St.

The group's goal was to inform people in the jail or those on probation and off parole about their right to vote. The only prisoners who are not allowed to vote in the jail are those who have been convicted of a felony and are awaiting transfer to state prison.

All of Us or None is a project of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, based in San Francisco. Other voter registration drives for the project were held Saturday statewide, including in San Mateo, San Diego, Los Angeles and Orange counties.

"I believed that I could never vote again," said Linda Evans, co-founder of All of Us or None.

After 16 years in federal prison and finally off parole, Evans voted for the first time in 2004 at age 60. "I cared about issues on the ballot, and it was a step toward rejoining the community and taking responsibility."

Event organizers said "on probation, off parole," is the slogan they often use to help people know their rights.

This weekend's campaign was part of a National Day of Action for Jail and Prison Voting Rights organized in other Advertisementstates, including Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas.

Organizers said a lot of misinformation has caused voter suppression and disenfranchisement of blacks and Latinos, who make up the majority of the prison population.

"The criminal justice system in our state is in crisis, and we need people that are impacted by it to take action,'' Evans said.

Eligibility to vote is determined by each state, but federal legislation such as the Voting Rights Act has imposed some restrictions on state voting laws.

Maine and Vermont are the only two states that allow state prisoners to vote.

Salim Secrease, 54, of Hayward came to visit his stepson who has been in Oakland's North County Jail for three months. He said he was eager to give him a voter registration form to fill out.

"It's pitiful that a lot of people don't know they have the right to vote,'' Secrease said.

Organizers urged people visiting their loved ones to inform them of their right to vote-by-mail ballots depending on their status in jail.

"We want to encourage people to participate in the governance of the community,'' Evans said. "That's what voting is about."

For more information about All of Us or None, visit

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