September 20, 2023

PHILADELPHIA — A new statewide coalition of 18 non-partisan voter access and outreach groups has formed to rectify the blatant disenfranchisement of incarcerated Pennsylvanians. Building on the success of the Philadelphia-based Justice Impacted Voter Engagement (JIVE) program spearheaded by All Voting is Local, the eponymous coalition has expanded to include a statewide focus with an affiliate in Allegheny County. 

In 2020, 25,000 people were held in county jails across the state. Of those people, only 52 requested mail-in ballots for the 2020 general election that year. Pennsylvania county jails do not have a universal process for voter registration, voting-by-mail, or voter education, which discourages thousands of incarcerated people in the Commonwealth from exercising their constitutional right to vote. 

JIVE is built around a three-pronged approach with the goal of removing these barriers to the ballot box for justice-impacted Pennsylvanians: 

  • Centering BIPOC-led organizations to lead in the efforts of educating, organizing and mobilizing justice-impacted voters in and outside of jails.
  • Utilizing best practices to create and provide resources and training materials for prison staff, incarcerated people, and families impacted by the criminal justice system. 
  • Advocating for statewide jail voting policies to gain accessibility for justice-impacted voters to vote.

The JIVE coalition will dedicate resources towards creating programs that ensure every eligible incarcerated person has secure access to voting.

“We see democracy as more than just casting a vote every election, we see participation in the electoral process as a starting point for the kind of grassroots advocacy that will lead to systemic change within our communities,” said PENNFranchise Executive Director Leigh Owens. “That’s why the goal of the PENNfranchise Project has been to increase turnout amongst currently and formerly incarcerated individuals through political education. National Voter Registration Day is a great opportunity for us to remind our neighbors how important it is to make your voice heard because when we organize, we win.” 

“No eligible voter should ever be denied their fundamental right to vote,” said All Voting is Local Pennsylvania State Director Nick Pressley. “Unless we take steps now to ensure that jails are making registration and voting accessible to eligible people, thousands of Pennsylvanians won’t be able to make their voices heard in upcoming elections. Our criminal justice system hinges on the principle of rehabilitation, and essential to that process is reentering society with full citizenship. That means jail administrators and local officials are obligated to provide necessary voting materials to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated Pennsylvanians in order to protect their constitutional right to vote.”