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Reinstated Mirkarimi registers 400 inmates to vote

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The day after retaking office, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pursued non-felon San Francisco County Jail inmates to register to vote. The inmates are able to send in mail-in ballots from the jail. - AP FILE PHOTO
  • AP File Photo
  • The day after retaking office, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi pursued non-felon San Francisco County Jail inmates to register to vote. The inmates are able to send in mail-in ballots from the jail.

Fresh off his dramatic rise from the ashes following a domestic violence scandal and subsequent official misconduct hearings, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is wasting no time rebuilding his image as one of the most liberal lawmen in the country.

Mirkarimi put out a news release Friday saying he is actively registering San Francisco County Jail inmates to vote, with influential Bayview religious figure the Rev. Amos Brown and a CNN broadcast crew in tow.

“We are committed to breaking down the barriers to anyone who wants exercise their right to vote,” he said. “I encourage those incarcerated and formerly incarcerated to familiarize themselves with the candidates and the issues and to use their voice to become a vital member of the communities they return to.”

Mirkarimi said candidates interested in reaching out to inmates can deliver their campaign materials to the jail by 1 p.m. on Tuesday. According to the news release, 400 new inmates have been registered so far, and there is traditionally a 90 percent turnout rate among inmates who are registered to vote.

The sheriff began the registration process with his department’s prisoner legal services program on Tuesday, just one day after actively retaking office from his temporary replacement — interim Sheriff Vicki Hennessy.

In an effort to remove the elected sheriff from office, Mayor Ed Lee suspended Mirkarimi without pay in March, following a misdemeanor false imprisonment conviction stemming from a Dec. 31 fight with his wife. Nine months and many lengthy city hearings later, Lee received only seven of the nine votes he needed from the Board of Supervisors to remove the sheriff permanently from office.

Convicted felons can only vote in California following the completion of parole, but local county inmates include plenty of lower-level offenders who can easily receive and return mail-in ballots from inside jail walls.

During Mirkarimi’s public outreach to build support for his reinstatement, he alluded to “Jim Crow-style” conditions in local jails, where a majority of inmates are black man. The sheriff himself could be back on the ballot as soon as 2013, with public talk of a possible effort to recall the sheriff — something that has thus far failed to materialize.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com