At any given moment, there are about 12,500 Wisconsinites in county jails. More than half of those in jail have yet to be convicted of a crime, but are forced to remain in jail because they are too poor to post cash bail.
In order to protect the constitutional right to vote of eligible voters in jail, it is time for Wisconsin decisionmakers to look at ways to ensure eligible voters in jail, have equal opportunity to register to vote and cast a ballot in every election.
The following brief offers an analysis of how Wisconsin jail, required by law to provide ballots and registration opportunities to all eligible voters, are executing on the fulfillment of that promise.
Create Election Day Polling Places Within County Jails – Voters in jail shouldn’t need to jump through hoops to make sure they can cast a ballot for each election. For individuals jailed after the deadline to request an absentee ballot, this is a particularly difficult (if not impossible) process to navigate. To address this problem, the Wisconsin Elections Commission, county clerks, and municipal clerks should look at what it would take to establish election day polling places within county jails.
Extend the Right to Vote via an Agent – Some voters who face circumstances that prevent them from voting at their polling place are already provided assistance. Under Wisconsin Statute § 6.86(3), Wisconsinites hospitalized before an election can elect an agent (e.g., family member, friend) to help them vote. However, despite facing similar limitations, these provisions are not extended to jailed voters. That needs to change.
Expand Options for Proof of Residence and Proof of Identity – To vote in Wisconsin, every voter needs to show proof of residence for the purposes of registering to vote, and proof of identity for the purposes of casting a ballot. Individuals may not have these documents with them when jailed. Furthermore, access to these documents can be complicated after an individual completes their intake. Therefore, decisionmakers should look at ways to expand the list of acceptable proof of residence and proof of identity documents to include those that can be easily procured from within a jail (e.g., jail IDs).