Barack Obama’s campaign prides itself on grassroots organizing, with thousands of staff members targeting numerous subsets of the population for voter registration and persuasion. One even sought to register inmates.
An internal email from the Michigan Department of Corrections in August describes a request from the campaign to enter jails to register those inmates set to be released before Election Day.
An Obama spokesman in Michigan acknowledged that a new organizer made the request, but supervisors nixed the idea as soon as they found out about it. The campaign denied all association with a second request to the Department of Corrections. The emails say that a Theresa Collins, identified as the national coordinator of “Inmates to Support Barack Obama,” asked the prison to post information about how prisoners could make campaign contributions to Obama. That group doesn’t appear to have any Web site.
The email chain shows that Richard Stapleton, administrator of the department’s Office of Legal Affairs, told a colleague to deny the campaign’s request. The email, which Washington Wire received from Obama opponent, was verified by a Corrections Department spokesman.
“We’ve got to make sure they’re out first,” said John Cordell, the spokesman. “We could say you’re out on Oct. 31, but if they do something between now and Oct. 31 that would make us think they’re a danger to society, then we’ll rescind their parole.”
Cordell said that around 10,000 inmates are released from Michigan jails each year. They are legally allowed to vote as soon as they are discharged or paroled, and a social worker typically helps them register at that time.
The campaign has said that it hasn’t tried to register felons, although it does provide information on whether state law allows felons to vote. Conservatives have made hay over some of Obama’s supporters and his connections. An article about a death-row inmate who endorsed Obama was widely picked up by right-wing blogs.
UPDATE: The Obama campaign spokesman in Michigan emphasized that Theresa Collins is not affiliated with the campaign and that it had no knowledge of that request to the Corrections Department.