The Sentencing Project releases new report on jail-based voting


WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Sentencing Project recently 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. 

Strategies listed for expanding voting access in jails include: 

Turning Jails intoPolling 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. 

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