As the San Francisco mayor’s race nears an end, hundreds of voters have registered to cast their ballots in the June election from behind bars.
The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department signed up 496 inmates to vote from County Jail this election season before voter registration closed May 21, according to department spokesperson Nancy Crowley.
The nearly 500 inmates will have a say in whether frontrunners Angela Alioto, London Breed, Jane Kim or Mark Leno becomes the next mayor of San Francisco. They will also help decide the fate of controversial ballot measures including Proposition H, which would create a policy for arming police with stun guns.
“Voting is one of the ways inmates function in a productive, lawful manner,” Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said in a statement. “Studies show that efforts to preserve or restore individual civil rights help reduce the likelihood of recidivism.”
Since 2000, the Sheriff’s Department has registered inmates to vote. California law allows inmates to vote unless they are serving a prison sentence or on parole.
About 85 percent of the inmates awaiting trial in County Jail are eligible to vote, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
But Nick Gregoratos, director of the Sheriff’s Department Prisoner Legal Services, said the June election will be the first time that many inmates vote.
“They believed that they were not allowed to vote due to prior convictions,” Gregoratos said in a statement. “Once inmates understand they are eligible to vote, they become excited about the opportunity and spend time studying the issues to make informed choices.”
The inmates will use local and state voter information pamphlets and cast their ballots by mail, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Editor’s note: This story’s headline has been revised to reflect that the “nearly 500 inmates” refers specifically to those who registered and not to everyone eligible to vote.