A ballot initiative has been filed to give California’s prisoners the right to vote.

The arguments for it are about the prisoners. Such as: They shouldn’t be banished from our democracy because they’re incarcerated. And voting will keep them in touch with society and make it easier to integrate them into community life when they get out.

I’m fine with those arguments and the idea. But there are other reasons to permit such voting, reasons that have to do with the benefits to the state as a whole.

At the heart of those reasons is this: the state’s prisons are the most Californian of institutions. Think about it. Most of the companies and institutions with which we interact are regional; they serve the region where we live and work, and so those people know us. The only two big institutions where Californians from all the state’s regions come together and interact are the state university systems, and the state prisons.

And the state universities let in so many people from other states and countries that they are more than California institutions. Admission to the state prisons is more exclusively Californian.

You can say many bad things about the Californians who live in the state prisons, but here’s one note of praise: California prisoners, in my experience as an occasional visitor to prisoners around the state for journalistic purposes, know more about how state government works than the rest of us. It’s not just their intimate knowledge of the prisons, and the criminal justice system, that distinguish. You’ll find they understand the structure of government and the departments, know something of the legislature, and even of the budget. Because it affects them.

As such, California prisoners would be well-informed voters, at least by the very low standards of California voters. And this state needs as many informed voters as it can get.

And since it’s already paying to house them, why not?