OB Voter Registration – Right to Vote for Ex-Convicts and the Homeless

by on July 1, 2010 · 21 comments

in Civil Rights, Election, Homelessness, Ocean Beach

tent

By Brenda McFarlane / July 1, 2010

Have you seen the tent set up on the grass at Newport and Abbott with a bunch of scrawled signs along with one official sign reading: “Republicans Register Here”? I wouldn’t think of OB as a bastion of unregistered republican voters (despite one or two retailers who treat our town as just another exploitable resource)

I admit to being a bit frightened of die-hard — correction — all Republicans, so I was a bit worried about who was manning the tent as I approached. Each sign was crammed to the edges with hand written words and phrases competing urgently for attention. It turns out the sole visionary for the endeavor is Mike, a pleasant and energetic old-timer to OB who is passionate about convincing all US citizens to exercise their rights and responsibilities as voters.

RegistrationTentHe’s been by the sea wall for 10 days now chatting with anyone who wants to, writing signs for those who don’t, and trying to get voters to register.”Use it Our Lose it” he proclaims, and “If you’re too young to vote, make sure your parents are voting.” He has been getting registrations, maybe averaging about 20 a day, but sometime a lot more.

It’s clear that his favorite mission is to get the homeless and those who have served time for felonies to not only know they still have a constitutional right to vote but a civic duty to do so. One of his slogans is “Winner or Whiner”.

Mike clearly loves his job. He says to me with animation:

“You should see these guys…before I talk with them they’re walking like this…” Mike slumps his shoulders and shuffles his feet. “But, once they know they are legally allowed vote and they’ve registered with me, they walk like this…” now he shows me the walk transformed, chest puffed out and chin high. Mike sums this up with a smile and a tap to my arm “Registering makes them feel GOOD about themselves.”

He tells me about the Stagehand working the OB fair on Saturday who called over at Mike and said something like “It’s all good for people who can vote but I’m a convicted felon and have lost my right to vote forever. What about people like me?” This is the moment Mike lives for, the moment when he can give someone the good news that, despite previous wrong doings or the lack of a home, they remain full fledged citizens of the United States and have the right to vote, in California that is.

TentRepublican2Sadly, too many California’s believe they are legally prohibited from voting and, if they vote and are caught, they might be criminally charged with a felony. I talked with a friend who is an ex-convict and asked her what she thought her voting rights were. She told me she doesn’t think she is legally allowed to vote but added, “I vote anyway, fuck ‘em!”

Unfortunately it’s all too common for people who can vote to think they can’t. According to the American Civil Liberties Union cited all kinds of prohibitive voting laws, practices and misinformation across the U.S. that impact ex-felons voting. In a 2008 ACLU report, they suggest an estimated 5.3 million people are prevented from exercising their right to vote as citizens in the U.S.

Still, in California the lifetime disenfranchisement of people with criminal records was struck down in 1973. So why does the misinformation still survive?

In 10 states, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime ban from voting. Many people aren’t aware that voting rights are mandated by state laws, so they are never made aware that their right to vote is reinstated when they move out of a restrictive state. Worse, because they are unaware, they are very likely to innocently spread misinformation by warning ex-felons not vote or risk criminal charges.

But it’s not just ex-convicts who don’t know their rights in California, The ACLU found that there was widespread failure to provide adequate information about the voting rights within the Secretary of State’s Office and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

However, the registration card seems clear—it says you are allowed to vote if you are “not in prison or on parole for a felony.” It is hard to understand why there’s still a problem but consider the complexity of the California penal system.

The ACLU reports that” at least 500 felony offenses populate California’s Penal Code including numerous nonviolent offenses, such as vandalism of $400 or more, marrying under false personification, and counterfeiting.” and 300 more crimes might be called felonies- or not – according to the judge’s discretion, including property or drug offenses. The volume of felony offenses actually barred 25,000 California’s from legally voting in 2008 but who knows how many more people were confused about their rights to vote.

According to Mike, he registers 3 or 4 ex–convicts everyday who had no idea they were legally allowed to vote.

And then, there are the unregistered, disenfranchised homeless. Ask almost anyone and they’ll guess that you can’t vote if you don’t have an address, and they’d be right except the definition of address is more liberal than most people know. As one of Mike’s signs says, you can give your address as “a cross street, marina, boat, slip or ship”. Looking at the registration form, on line 6 I see an empty box preceded by the instructions; “If you do not have a street address, describe where you live”. Seems to me the address “Ocean Beach Pier – Lower Level” would suffice and so, I’ve learned, homeless people can vote and Mike is spreading the word.

However, it’s not all altruism for Mike, who tells me he was once in “building and home ownership” until he fell victim to a “Theft of Title” scheme and spent time homeless. He tells me he is being paid to register voters, well, sort of. He is actually paid by the Republican Party of San Diego Committee (RPSDC) from 3 to 10 dollars per Republican registrant. He quickly adds that he registers everyone, no matter their affiliation but he only gets paid for the Republican ones.

Perhaps it was the Meg Whitman brochures on the table that led me to think that the Whitman Party was funding this registration drive but when I called Whitman’s headquarters, Brandon nicely explained to me that they let the party deal with such things.

Like a dumbass, I called the San Diego Republican Party to find out how it’s funded and the guy who answered kindly refrained from saying “Who do you think pays for it? The Republican Party stupid” and instead he wisely advised me to talk to one of his higher ups. Calling the republicans made me a little paranoid and I didn’t want to get Mike in any trouble so I dropped it.

Next, I called the Registrar of Voters to find out about the legality of paying for registrants and I asked about the laws. The nice woman sweetly pointed out to me it was that it was completely legal because no law says it isn’t. Oh. It seems a very odd mixture of money and voting rights to me but I grew up in Canada so I sometimes have strange ideas (I am a US citizen though and vote, in case you’re curious)

Mike tells me a lot of people think he isn’t even allowed to set up a registration booth here at the beach, even the lifeguards had to make a few calls to make sure everything was allowed, which it was. But this brings me to the big question “Why here in O.B.?”

“Because,” Mike smiles as the sea breeze tussles his hair, “it’s a helluva lot nicer to work here then my old spot by Home Depot. Plus, I’m from around here, in fact, I helped catch the guys that assaulted Mark and pushed him off the sea wall a couple years ago.”

This sounds like an interesting story too but I don’t pursue it because it is one of those rare moments when life presents me with a moment of delightful irony. I simply enjoy the notion of this ex-homeless guy registering homeless people and ex-convicts and being paid to do it by the Republican Party. Sweet.

Mike isn’t sure how long he’ll be here registering people but I urge you to go down to register or bring a friend who isn’t yet registered to his tent at the end of Newport. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled to see you, no matter what your party affiliation. As a treat, ask to see his notebook of sign slogans, he has a true talent for writing them.

Only in OB.

OBrenda

Ed: Brenda McFarlane is a new blogger for the OB Rag. This is her first post.  She and her hubby bought a condo in OB five years ago and have decided to pitch their tent here for good.  Please welcome her to the blog, and we look forward to more of her delightful insights into OB.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar doug porter July 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

yay! a great slice’o life story about our fine community and the people in it.

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avatar Chris Moore July 1, 2010 at 10:33 am

Yeah, excellent story, thanks.

Already registered, but I’ll make a point of giving Mike a thumbs-up when I see him.

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avatar annagrace July 1, 2010 at 10:48 am

Brenda- what an illuminating article! I have participated in voter registration drives on occasion, and I have constantly despaired of what I understood-erroneously it turns out- to be the disenfranchisement of the homeless and convicted felons.

I immediately made a copy of your article. Ignorance is a curable disease. Thank you for a well written, significant post & welcome to the OB Rag. Looking forward to future posts.

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avatar Dave Rice (a.k.a. psd/anonymouscoward) July 1, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Great first post, Brenda!

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avatar Peyton Farquhar July 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm

It’s a pleasant story of civic pride supplemented by monetary incentive, but let’s look at the reality of the situation. Registering the average person (who has to work for a living) to vote for people (on both sides of the political aisle) who are already millionaires before, during and after they’ve left office does not translate into anything substantive or meaningful because the newly registered voters will vote to keep one set of douchebags in office or replace them with a new set. Either way, if you have to work for a living, you’re screwed. Sure, voting and registering to vote is a happy horseshit kind of story, but any rewards for such behavior are purely in the abstract.

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avatar Brenda McFarlane July 1, 2010 at 11:03 pm

Interesting point of view and got me thinking. If I understand what you mean, I think I often agree with you. Voting can seem pretty useless and futile to me but I have so little power, why would I choose to give up what little I do have? To me, voting gives me the right to complain and fight. Not voting means I’m too depressed to care (and sometimes I am too depressed to care–but I’ve not missed an opportunity to vote… yet.) I’m not sure I would put my life on the line for my right to vote because I’m not sure I have enough conviction, but shouldn’t I be willing? Voting symbolically represents all my rights as a member of society so I choose to honor it and, because of this, must insist that others have the same rights as I.

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avatar Brenda McFarlane July 1, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Interesting point of view and got me thinking. If I understand what you mean, I think I often agree with you. Voting can seem pretty useless and futile to me but I have so little power, why would I choose to give up what little I do have? To me, voting gives me the right to complain and fight. Not voting means I’m too depressed to care (and sometimes I am too depressed to care–but I’ve not missed an opportunity to vote… yet.) I’m not sure I would put my life on the line for my right to vote because I’m not sure I have enough conviction, but shouldn’t I be willing? Voting symbolically represents all my rights as a member of society so I choose to honor it and, because of this, must insist that others have the same rights as I. So I agree, the rewards for voting may indeed be abstract but this may not lessen its significance.

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avatar Dave Rice (a.k.a. psd/anonymouscoward) July 2, 2010 at 6:43 pm

I always vote for some obscure candidate that doesn’t belong to one of the ruling parties – I think my vote for essentially ‘none of the above’ says more than a vote for d-bag 1 or d-bag 2…

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avatar Kristin C. July 1, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Excellent article!!! I was a Poli Sci major and never knew that only 10 states denied voting rights to convicted felons – I had NO idea!!! So glad that you and Mike are spreading the information – I will post a link to this article because more people need to know that they have rights too. Great job – look forward to more of your writing. (And it is effin’ hilarious that the RP is paying for this – awesome!)

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avatar Brenda McFarlane July 1, 2010 at 10:31 pm

Thank you all so much for the encouraging words. And I just need to send thanks to Mike again for letting me know too.

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avatar Crystal Pollard July 2, 2010 at 11:24 am

What concerns me is that is isn’t against the law to flaunt your own political party at a voter registration booth, which may discourage would-be voters of other parties from approaching the booth to register. All would-be voters should feel welcome to register, without being unduly influenced or bullied by the advertisement of a particular political party. I found out, for instance, that if a Democrat, American Independent, Libertarian or Green Party would-be voter registers at a booth advertising for the Republican Party, the booth manager doesn’t even have to accept their registration, but can ask that person to “mail it”. This I found out from the Registrar of Voters. This law has been challenged in court multiple times, but always gets defeated. I personally think that any booth setting up to register voters should be politically neutral, or at least have ALL parties represented on their signs, so as not to discourage voters of different parties from approaching that booth.

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avatar Dave Rice (a.k.a. psd/anonymouscoward) July 2, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Maybe the other parties aren’t so desperate for voters as to pay people to schlep for registrations?

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avatar mike July 2, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I accept all resgitrations and they are delivered to the San Diego Republican Party
I have signs from the Republican Party because they gave them to me.I went to the Democratic Party they had no signs There office is on clairmont mesa. Its a job .The park has lots of space for all other Party people .You can also pick up voters docs and set up your own booth.But do follow the law.you don”t want to catch a felony. Mike

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avatar Brenda McFarlane July 4, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Hey, thanks Mike for commenting, really appreciate it.

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avatar Chris Moore July 3, 2010 at 6:16 am

I had the honor of meeting Mike this AM, setting at an unholy hour as I was just wandering around pestering random OBecians.

I am no huge fan of the GOP, but I hope Mike somehow makes a million bucks, he seems like a good man and he is doing good work for the community.

The more people raise the voice the less easily we all can be screwed.

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avatar Chris Moore July 3, 2010 at 6:20 am

My grammar and spelling are freaking awesome as it gets close to dawn ;)

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avatar mr fresh July 5, 2010 at 12:39 pm

the gop is Hiring:

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avatar Mike July 5, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I NEED YOUR HELP…Someone just STOLE MY COLEMAN SHADE TENT…. Today (Monday 7/5/2010) shortly before or about a 1/2 hour after noon TODAY. I unloaded my truck right there at the corner of Abbott and Newport. I set my signs and my Coleman Shade Tent (in its bag) down on the grass in the park right behind the Veterans’ Memorial….same place I always put my things and set up. I was gone about 5-10 minutes while I parked the truck and walked back. When I got back….someone had STOLEN MY COLEMAN SHADE TENT….it’s the one shown in the photos with this article. Did anyone see it happen? Any good information will be definitely appreciated. Thanks for your help.

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avatar Mike July 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

What they walked off with is a BLACK RECTANGULAR SHAPED BAG that contains the metal frame for the shade tent. They didn’t get the tent pegs and they didn’t get the canopy…but the tent is pretty useless without the frame. Keep your eyes peeled for the black rectangular shaped bag containing the metal frame. Thanks.

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avatar DC July 12, 2010 at 7:36 pm

You know, it’s a shame that someone like Mike, who’s trying to make a living and who’s also trying to get the good word out to California residents to register to Vote, couldn’t leave his canopy bag right there in plain sight, with lots of locals, police and life guards around, without some jerk stealing it on him! That was a Father’s Day gift and cost $119! He doesn’t make that kind of money, so unless someone donates another 10×10 Coleman pop-up canopy to him, I guess it’s just one Father’s Day gift stolen by some crook and not replaced. I hope the person who took it enjoys his “Bad Karma” !

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