Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Drunk and Disorderly? You Can Still Vote; Kerry-Edwards 2004

Continuing with today's Coulterian theme, we are not making this stuff up:

There's a captive audience of unregistered, mostly undecided, potential voters whom candidates have paid almost no attention to.

Maybe the bars scare off the campaign workers.

As Monday's voter registration deadline nears, volunteers at Just Harvest are working to register inmates at the Allegheny County Jail. An unprecedented survey of inmates by the Pittsburgh-based charity found 336 inmates who are eligible to vote and want to cast absentee ballots in the Nov. 2 election. Of those, 196 had to register to vote.

Just Harvest, which supports anti-poverty programs, put together the jail project as part of its overall voter registration drive this year, called Just Vote. The group registered about 1,100 new voters, mostly at shelters, Head Start centers and food pantries.

"There is a fair amount of misinformation telling us that people in jail can't vote, which is not necessarily true," said Chip Peters, voter registration field organizer for Just Harvest. "The only people in jail who can't vote are felons. If you are in jail awaiting trial, or serving a misdemeanor sentence such as criminal trespass, or doing 30 days because you couldn't pay a fine for, say, drunk and disorderly, you are still allowed to vote."

Inmate registration programs began appearing across the nation in the past year or two, said Charlie Sullivan, co-director of Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, a Washington, D.C.-based prison advocacy group. However, Bill Schouppe, warden of the Beaver County Jail, said he hasn't seen any such efforts at his lockup.

Peters said Just Harvest is a nonpartisan organization and has no interest in promoting any parties or candidates. Wilfred Rojas, director of the office of community justice and outreach in the Philadelphia prison system, said he's found most inmates are among the undecided voters so coveted in this presidential election.

"They haven't really been engaged in the political system," said Rojas, who heads a voter registration effort that the jail began in June after a Philadelphia group similar to Just Harvest started registering inmates. So far, the jail has registered 900 inmates. Eventually, Rojas said, inmates will be able to register to vote when they're processed into the jail.

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