Inmates In Jail Have A Right To Vote
Unless they are felons. But state policies make it difficult for them to vote.
Wisconsin needs to make it easier for people who are in jail to vote.
Unless they’ve been already convicted of a felony, they retain the right to vote.
The report, entitled “Ballots for All: Ensuring Eligible Wisconsinites in Jail Have Equal Access to Voting,” notes that the number of inmates who are de-facto disenfranchised is high.
There are about 13,000 people in jail in Wisconsin, the report notes. Only a miniscule number of those have been able to exercise their right to vote.
“Approximately 60 people registered from jail, and 50 people voted from jail in the 2020 elections,” the report notes.
This de-facto disenfranchisement disproportionately affects the poor and people of color.
“More than half have yet to be convicted of a crime but are forced to remain in jail because they are too poor to post cash bail,” the report notes. “Black and Native American Wisconsinites are jailed at nearly seven times the rate of white Wisconsinites.”
In 2020, only 29 counties had policies in place support jail-based voting.
But because of inquiries by the groups that wrote this report and by other activists, things have improved over the last year. Now 39 counties have such policies. “We are moving in the right direction,” says the report.
Nevertheless, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
The report also gives specific recommendations for the Legislature to take, including allowing government-issued jail IDs to be used as a valid voter ID and to allow in-person voting on Election Day. (And on a related issue, the report recommends that prisoners who have committed felonies also be allowed to vote. According to the report, “69,000 people are currently prohibited from voting” because they are serving a felony sentence. “It is past time for Wisconsin to end felony disenfranchisement and guarantee the freedom to vote for all.”)
And the report recommends steps that election administrators should take to facilitate jail-based voting, including hosting “registration and absentee ballot request events in county jails.”
As the report says in its conclusion, every eligible Wisconsin voter should be given the opportunity to cast a ballot.
And that includes people who are in jail.
Let’s end de-facto disenfranchisement.