Report: Pennsylvania Jails Fail to Protect the Right to Vote

PHILADELPHIA — All Voting is Local, the Committee of Seventy, and Common Cause Pennsylvania released today “Ballots for All: Holding Pennsylvania County Jails Accountable for Providing Ballot Access,” a report revealing that county jails do not have a universal process for voter registration, voting by mail, or voter education—effectively disenfranchising eligible voters in jail throughout the state.

The groups used Pennsylvania’s right-to-know request statute to determine whether 61 Pennsylvania county jails are ensuring each eligible voter has an equal opportunity to vote in every election and found the following: 

  • 57% of the surveyed counties do not have a written policy regarding jail voting.
  • 71% of the surveyed counties do not have detailed policies about visitation in regard to accessing the voting process.
  • 84% of the surveyed counties do not have policies about emailing voters in jail.

“Without detailed policies and plans, voters in jail are left with almost no resources to ensure they can participate in elections,” said Aerion Abney, All Voting is Local Pennsylvania Special Projects Director. “The vast majority of county jails are failing voters by disenfranchising Pennsylvanians in jail. County jails and lawmakers must create policies to ensure that all of our voices are heard.”

In the report, the groups recommend that state and local officials must include  policies, designated officials, partnership with election officials, and proactive outreach in their programs on voting in jail to ensure that they are equitable and successful.

“Some good news is that best practices for ensuring full and meaningful ballot access in county jails can be found right here in Pennsylvania,” noted Pat Christmas, Policy Director for the Committee of Seventy. “Much of the work should be around sharing and replicating those practices across the Commonwealth. The franchise of thousands is at stake.”

“This report and the subsequent recommendations are not an indictment on any of the county jails or county administrators, but more so an indictment on the gap in public policy that is not allowing everyone to practice democracy, even those who are not convicted and occupants of county jails,” said Khalif Ali, Executive Director of Common Cause Pennsylvania. 

Read the full report here and find the recording of today’s press briefing here.