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The Sentencing Project Releases New Report on Jail-Based Voting

The new report, “Voting in Jails: Advocacy Strategies to #UNLOCKtheVOTE,” examines strategies to improve ballot access for incarcerated people who are legally eligible to vote.
WASHINGTON -

Today, The Sentencing Project released a new report, "Voting in Jails: Advocacy Strategies to #UNLOCKtheVOTE," which examines strategies to improve ballot access for incarcerated people who are legally eligible to vote.

“Every year, hundreds of thousands of eligible incarcerated voters are unable to cast their ballot due to misinformation, institutional bureaucracy and de-prioritization among government officials,” said Durrel Douglas, author of the report and Jail-based Voting Initiative Organizer with The Sentencing Project. “This briefing paper provides a number of case studies that can help advocates increase ballot access for incarcerated voters, and can help jail officials and lawmakers expand ballot access in jails. Our democracy works best when everyone who is eligible to vote can make their voice heard”

Strategies listed for expanding voting access in jails include:

Turning jails into polling locations. Current jail-based voter programs that rely on absentee voting often experience various logistical challenges. Increasingly, advocates and officials are recognizing that establishing a polling location will improve voter access and turnout far better than jail-based absentee voting initiatives. After the Cook County jail in Illinois was turned into a polling location, approximately 2,200 people were able to cast their ballot.

Encouraging Jails to Host Candidate Forums. Jail officials, lawmakers and citizens can work with political candidates to host candidate forums at local jails. During the 2021 election cycle in Michigan, Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson and the IGNITE (Inmate Growth Naturally and Intentionally Through Education) program co-hosted a candidates’ forum for residents at the jail. Over 20 city council candidates attended the “Meet the Candidates’’ town hall where residents at the jail and candidates discussed ways to improve public education and support reentry programs.

Supporting Individual Action. One person can make a difference. Longtime South Dakota activist, Cathy Brechtelsbauer, launched a solo organizing campaign that led to a series of meetings with the Warden of the Minnehaha County Jail in Sioux Falls. She requested that eligible voters housed at the jail have access to voter registration cards and non-partisan election education materials and that a designated ballot box be provided for absentee ballots. Ahead of the voter registration deadline, voter registration packets were moving from dorm to dorm and cell to cell at the Minnehaha County jail.

The new report includes additional recommendations for citizens, jail officials and lawmakers, as well as case studies from across the country. To view the full report, click here.

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The Sentencing Project is a leader in changing the way Americans think about crime and punishment. The Sentencing Project promotes effective and humane responses to crime that minimize imprisonment and criminalization of youth and adults by promoting racial, ethnic, economic, and gender justice.

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