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Efforts underway to increase number of voters behind bars in Sacramento County

Sacramento County wants to get more ballots to inmates
Sacramento County wants to get more ballots to inmates 02:06

SACRAMENTO — New efforts are underway to give ballots to inmates behind bars in Sacramento County.

"Most people who are incarcerated can vote, however, they don't know that they can vote," said Rhonda Rios Kravitz of the Sacramento Voter Coalition.

A state law passed in 2016 allows many people in county jails to vote by mail behind bars.

"Almost 70% in the jail are there pre-trial, which means they have not been convicted," Rios Kravitz said. "If you're there for a misdemeanor you can vote, if you're there on probation you can vote, if you're on parole you can vote"

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department said it has a coordinator who helps inmates who want to vote.

"We're staying compliant with the law and with that includes outreach, includes access to ballots and includes access to voter information," said Sgt. Amar Gandhi, sheriff's spokesperson.

Just a small fraction of people in the Sacramento County Jail actually cast a ballot. Numbers for the last five years show only 177 people voted.

"Those numbers are shocking when you know that there's something like 3,700 people in the jail at a time," Rios Kravitz said.

The voter coalition now wants to work with the jail to increase inmate voting awareness and remove any barriers.

"We think that we're doing a good job with that," Sgt. Gandhi said. "Again, there's always room to improve."

Outreach supporters say the effort is not an attempt by any political party to sway an election.

"We work non-partisan, so for us, it is not an issue of being a Democrat or a Republican," Rios Kravitz said.

Supporters say that voting helps reduce recidivism rates and prepares inmates to re-enter society once they're released.

"Voting really gives people the opportunity to be civically engaged, to be part of the community and to be involved," Rios Kravitz said.

A bill is currently pending in the California Legislature that would allow polling places to be set up inside jails. It's supported by several social justice groups but faces opposition from some county leaders who say it creates logistical challenges.

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