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Mighty Matt:

We have an election coming up. Which gets me to wondering, can felons vote in California?

— Good Citizen, Vista

When was the last time you saw a candidate detour the campaign bus to Folsom or Chino to stump for that all-important car-thief vote? On election day, nobody in a federal or state lockup in California will be fretting about what time the polls close. Convicted felons lose lots of rights and privileges, including the right to vote until they've served their prison time and successfully completed their term of parole.

Until 1966, if you robbed a liquor store, say, or rustled some cattle (were convicted of an "infamous crime," in the words of the state constitution), California told you to take your ballot and stuff it. You'd never vote again. You were thought to be "a threat to the integrity of the elective process." Personally, there are a couple of Cabinet members that scare me more, but anyway, in 1976, Sacramento decided that only people still serving a sentence or still on parole were barred from voting.

But let's say our friend N. Carcerated, legally registered to vote and unsullied by a felony conviction, is late for class one day. He spots a nice little Mustang at the curb and figures that will solve his problem. The cops put the arm on him and take him downtown for booking. Soon enough N.'s sitting in the fish tank with the rest of the day's catch, eating dinner off a plastic tray and calling collect to all his relatives to snivel about raising bail. If none of the Carcerateds can come up with the dough, can N. legally cast a ballot? If on election day he's not yet been convicted of appropriating the Mustang, he certainly can. So certain county jail residents would be eligible to vote. As you can imagine, though, it's not a high priority. One M.A. pal, a former sheriff's deputy, says that in six years of duty in county lockups, no one ever asked for an absentee ballot.

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