What You Should Know
In most states, citizens awaiting trial or convicted of a misdemeanor can cast a ballot. But few are able to, simply because jail officials do not have voting programs that encourage people to exercise their right to vote. In fact, at any given time, there are roughly 750,000 Americans in jails and most of them are legally allowed to cast ballots.
Unless we take action now to ensure that jails make registration and voting accessible to eligible people, hundreds of thousands of voters won’t be able to make their voices heard in the next election.
Together, we can ensure all eligible voters can make their voices heard.
These individuals may be waiting for trial and lack the money needed for bail, or might be serving time for a misdemeanor. These situations on their own should not prevent voters from casting ballots.
For example, in 2015, the state of Ohio held over 17,000 people in jails — nearly all of them had the right to vote. While Ohio state law only prevents those in jail or prison who are serving a felony conviction at the time of an election from voting, misinformation around this issue keep many eligible Ohioans disengaged from the voting process.
For some, voting hasn’t played a central role in their lives, before or after entering the criminal justice system. For others, it can be easy to believe that a criminal record immediately revokes their access to a ballot. Without access to voter registration, absentee ballot, and civic engagement programs inside jails, this is a difficult cycle to break.
When eligible voters are denied this fundamental right, not only are their voices silenced, but also the voices of their families and communities. This further alienates these communities from the political process and increases the number of Americans that have lost faith in our democracy.
We believe every eligible voter deserves to cast a ballot free from needless barriers. County jail officials must make it easier for people to vote. We’re working with partners and communities on the ground to educate individuals on their rights, and increase the number of eligible jailed voters ballots being cast.
Attend a Training and Help Register Voters in Jail
Our jail voting training allows volunteers to get the tools they need to join or start a program in their community. Participants learn about jails, who’s in them and why, and get technical training on how to provide registration and absentee ballot support to voters in jail.
Many people who are passionate about voter registration may never have been in a jail, so participants can learn what those environments are like, and how to respectfully interact with jailed voters and jail staff.
Activists from our initial trainings are organizing to get their local jail officials to allow voter registration and absentee programs, with the goal of increasing the number of county programs in 2020.
We know that having people in jails to register voters and answer questions dramatically increase the likelihood an individual will successfully cast a ballot, and contributes to the overall health of our democracy.
Access to the ballot is a fundamental right: join us in our fight to guarantee that right to the most marginalized among us.