D.C. Jail inmates cast their primary ballots
Turnout in this year's primary election might get a boost from an unexpected group of voters: D.C. Jail inmates.
Friday morning, about a dozen organizers from the Re-Entry Network for Returning Citizens huddled on 19th Street SE outside the Central Detention Facility. The group is the work of two men, Courtney Stewart and Charles Thorton, who have been out of trouble for decades, have built careers, and are now trying to help inmates who will one day become "returned citizens."
Getting them to vote, Stewart says, is the first step toward re-entering the community.
"It's going to empower the person, allow them to become a part of the American way," said another activist on hand, Tyrone Parker of the Alliance of Concerned Men.
Under city law, the only offenders who cannot vote are those incarcerated for a felony conviction. Those jailed for misdemeanors and those awaiting trial may take advantage of the franchise. Of the jail's 2,200 current inmates, Stewart estimates that about 1,500 are eligible to vote.
D.C. Jail inmates have been able to cast ballots before. But the population is, as you might guess, not known for its high rate of voter registration, and this year's debut of same-day registration stands to have a disproportionate benefit inside the jail walls.
Rokey Suleman, executive director of the Board of Elections and Ethics, was on the scene to make sure the balloting went as planned. Inmates are casting paper absentee ballots. Campaign observers were to be allowed on the premises, Stewart said, but no campaigning is allowed and the Re-Entry Network doesn't have a horse in the primary races.
"We're completely nonpartisan," Stewart said. "Completely."
Thornton put matters in topical terms: "If the democratic process allows the right of preachers to burn Korans in Florida, then surely we can get our voice heard," he said.
September 10, 2010; 12:50 PM ET
Categories: DCision 2010 , The District
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