2021 Grants Challenge

LA Free the Vote

Idea by LA Voice

LA Free the Vote is an initiative to civically engage the justice system impacted community. We inform individuals of their rights, register them to vote, and educate voters on salient policy issues, particularly those related to criminal justice reform. By helping to bring this community to the polls, we are building the power of those who have been disenfranchised, restoring formerly incarcerated individuals’ sense of integration into society and advocating for policies that promote racial justice and economic opportunity for all.


In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

County of Los Angeles

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

Recent legal reforms now enable more people with a felony on their record in Los Angeles County to be eligible to vote. However, most of the nearly 36,000 probationers in LA County are unaware of their eligibility and are unlikely to show up to vote without encouragement. Among this population, 16% are ages 18-24 and 77% are people of color, making this an issue of not only access, but racial equity. The voices of those impacted by the criminal justice system, who are disproportionately Black and Brown, are critical to our democracy. Voting provides a sense of belonging and agency within society and can therefore be a transformative piece of an individual’s reentry process. More, decisions that maintain oppressive structures and systems too often exclude the input of those who have been harmed by those systems. For true criminal justice reform to occur, the people most impacted by the unjust and racialized systems have to be at the center of decision making about where we go from here.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

LA Voice will implement a civic education and engagement strategy that will educate 1500 justice-involved individuals about their eligibility to vote and why voting matters, register 1000 justice-involved individuals, and get 1000 justice individuals to commit to civic engagement around criminal justice policies and voting in 2022. To achieve these goals, we will develop leadership among justice involved community members, training them to work alongside LA Voice organizers in conducting outreach with partner organizations, the Office of Diversion and Reentry (ODR) and other county agencies, churches and other community spaces. Our team will focus on voter registration and voter education drives in LA County. Additionally, we will host a townhall event featuring significant participation by big names in the criminal justice reform space in November for National Voter Registration Day. Based on our success in 2020, we know that this work makes a real impact in elections. We need now to build engagement in interim elections and remain in contact both with those system impacted individuals who voted and those who did not. We must continue to build our community’s power to hold lawmakers accountable. The California state legislature is proposing several bills around criminal justice, and we have the opportunity now to build awareness of the initiatives that will create alternatives to incarceration, usher in police reform, and restore dignity to individuals and communities.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

Direct Impact: 1,500

Indirect Impact: 6,000

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

At LA Voice, we are dedicated to increasing the number of justice involved individuals who are aware of their right to vote and committed to exercising that right. In the short term, LA Free the Vote aims to get 500 system impacted individuals to the polls, armed with the information they need to use their voice in legislative decisions that impact their lives. We aim to empower more folks like Karl, a justice system impacted individual who voted for the first time at age 56. “LA Voice helped me understand what was on the ballot in layman’s terms. I knew what I was voting for and the results that I was looking for.” We work to awaken people to their power through action and education so that our systems reflect the needs and interests of our most vulnerable citizens. When all members of a community have a say in the systems and services available to them, lives are transformed, recidivism is reduced, and democracy is strengthened, leading to a stronger, more connected Los Angeles.

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

LA Voice has played a crucial role in the nonpartisan LA County voter engagement infrastructure since 2011, turning out tens of thousands of low-income voters, people of color, and returning citizens. Through our Free the Vote work in 2020 in partnership with ODR, we turned out 580 justice system impacted individuals at the polls who otherwise might not have voted. We achieved this feat despite the challenges of a global pandemic through activities like public events, workshops and trainings, phone banking, in-person outreach, and social media. We track and report all data related to outreach efforts, civic engagement activities, and voter registrations with two tools: PDI and BLOCS. Based on our data, we know that LA Voice voters turn out at a rate at least 10% higher than the average voter in LA County. This is due to our highly effective model of relational organizing, which builds on relationships in communities and local leadership to mobilize high rates of civic engagement.

Which of the CONNECT metrics will you impact?​

Government responsiveness to residents’ needs

Voting rates