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Disenfranchisement News: Expanding voter rights education in jails

July 19, 2018
Legislation in California and Illinois would require jails to provide voter education and make in-person or absentee voting available to all eligible incarcerated voters.

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Expanding voter rights education in jails

In California, a bill to increase voter education in jails recently cleared the Senate Public Safety Committee. Assembly Bill 3115 would require jails to partner with at least one organization to provide “both written and verbal information about voting rights upon release from jail, providing affidavits of registration to eligible voters, assisting eligible voters with the completion of the affidavits of registration, and assisting eligible voters in returning the completed voter registration cards to the county elections official.”

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner is expected to sign a bill that would require every jail in the state to provide voter education and make in-person or absentee voting available to all eligible incarcerated voters. Currently only eight counties in the state have any voting process for people in pretrial detention. “There is confusion around how election code actually applies to the jail,” says Jen Dean, who runs Cook County Jail Votes, the group that helps facilitate registration and voting in the largest jail in the country. “[This bill] creates a system of uniformity across the state to make sure there are systems in place so that everybody has access to the ballot.”

Advocates appeal to Louisiana Supreme Court to challenge felony disenfranchisement law

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE), a grassroots advocacy organization, filed an appeal to the Louisiana Supreme Court, claiming that the state’s 1976 law unconstitutionally disenfranchises people on community supervision. Last year, VOTE argued that the language in the 1974 state Constitution that prohibits people who are “under an order of imprisonment” from voting was intended only to be applied to people in prison. In 1976, the state Legislature enacted laws that expanded the definition of “under an order of imprisonment” to include those on parole and probation. However, Judicial District Judge Tim Kelley rejected VOTE’s suit, saying that, while unfair, he believed it was the intent of the Constitutional framers to deny the vote to those on community supervision.

“The Louisiana Supreme Court is best positioned to correct this, and proclaim once and for all that the Louisiana Constitution guarantees the right to vote, and that voting can only be suspended during, not after, incarceration,” VOTE deputy director Bruce Reilly said after they announced their appeal.

People on community supervision face felony charges for illegally voting in 2016 election

In North Carolina, lawyers at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice filed requests for judges to dismiss felony charges for five individuals on community supervision accused of voting illegally in the 2016 election. State law requires individuals to complete their probation or parole sentence before they can have their voting rights restored. The lawyers argued that the state’s disenfranchisement policy is racially discriminatory because the intention, when it was passed in 1901, was to suppress the black vote. Furthermore, they highlight that while voting on probation or parole is considered a felony, a person who intimidates voters or breaks up an election “by force or violence” is only charged with a misdemeanor.

In Texas, a woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for voting while on probation recently lost a motion for a new trial. Crystal Mason testified that she did not know she was prohibited from voting when she cast her ballot in the 2016 election. According to Mason, an election worker walked her through the process of filling out a provisional ballot after they failed to locate her name on the voter roll. Mason plans on appealing the rejection of her motion for a new trial.

States change voting laws after 2016 election

Nearly every state has changed some element of their voting process since the 2016 election, including implementing new voter ID laws, changing how people register to vote, enforcing new court rulings on gerrymandering, and expanding voting rights to people with criminal records. According to a new analysis by ProPublica, three states have enacted policies to restore voting rights to people with felony records: Alabama, New York, and Virginia. In 2017, Alabama passed legislation that in effect reduced the number of crimes that result in loss of voting rights. Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order restoring voting rights to individuals on parole. And since the 2016 election, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to more than 170,000 people.


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