Thanks to Al and Dan for inviting me to sit a spell in the Lounge! I have been an avid reader for years, and I'm super excited about the opportunity. As Al mentioned, I'm writing a dissertation on slavery and penal systems in the antebellum South - one might think that this credential qualifies me to regularly solve Al's Civil War trivia questions (and yet, one would be wrong . . . I've only gotten one of Al's trivia questions right (!)). In any event, I'm looking forward to talking race, prisons, and property with this group.
First up, jailed prisoners and the franchise. This week, the L.A. Sheriff's Department is bringing the ballot inside the county jail. As part of an initiative to facilitate jailed detainees' access to the franchise, the Department recruited volunteers to assist jailed inmates with registration forms and absentee ballots. While hailed by some as a laudable development, some are questioning whether law enforcement agents are qualified to accurately ascertain eligibility and administer ballots for this election. This is especially tricky in California, where AB 109 (last year's "realignment" bill enacted in the wake of the Supreme Court affirming the prison population reduction order in Coleman v. Plata) has shifted jurisdiction over thousands of convicted nonviolent offenders to local jails. The populations currently being held in the state's local jails, therefore, do not share the same status - some are awaiting trial while others have been convicted and are serving sentences- and many do not share the same eligibility, an issue that may give rise to ballot integrity problems down the road. Several years ago, the ACLU compiled information about the myriad challenges of custodial voting - let's hope LA County is familiar with this history and its relative successes.
As an aside, one of the "surprises" noted by department personnel interviewed for this article was that several of the jailees registering to vote signed up as Republicans. The characterization of this demographic tidbit as a "surprise" brings to mind the work of Professor Janai Nelson of St. John's University School of Law. Nelson has an article forthcoming in the Florida Law Review (on ssrn here) in which she argues that felon disenfranchisement laws "reflect a misguided perception" of how a criminally detained or incarcerated individual might vote. Although not limited to the partisan question of whether this population might vote a Republican or Democratic ticket, Nelson's analysis is worth a read. Have criminal disenfranchisement schemes persisted for so long in the U.S. because of a presumption of how members of this population might vote if given the opportunity? (Nelson suggests that the answer is yes.). I'd love to hear your thoughts!