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Illinois lawmakers move on effort to expand voting from jail

The bill bill would also require Cook County to establish a polling place inside its jail.
voting ballot box

SPRINGFIELD (Illinois News Network) — Illinois lawmakers are working to give people behind bars while awaiting trial a better opportunity to vote.

The bill would require election officials to collaborate with county jails to provide voter registration forms to eligible voters who are in jail while awaiting trial. Those serving time after being convicted are not able to vote while in custody.

State Rep. Juliana Stratton, D-Springfield, said many people in jail while awaiting trial don’t know they can vote.

“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that a person’s right to vote is preserved,” she said.

Her bill would require jails to offer registration forms and make voting available to eligible prisoners. The bill next is ready for a full House vote after a favorable House Elections & Campaign Finance Committee vote on Wednesday.

Sangamon County Clerk Don Gray opposed the measure. He said the county already gives ballots to detainees.

“We take it very seriously that we also provide that treatment to pretrial detainees,” he told the committee Wednesday. “It does not seem to be a need since we’re doing it already.”

Stratton disagreed. She said a number of counties did not make voting available in their county jails, which is why she wants to require it.

Michelle Richardson, with ACLU Illinois, said six county jails told the organization that they do not make ballots available to eligible voters in jail.

Illinois allowed eligible incarcerated voters to cast ballots in the jail for the first time last year. Previously, eligible inmates had to mail their ballots.

Stratton’s bill would require Cook County to establish a polling place in its jail, something the county already does.

It would also require jails and prisons in the state to provide returning citizens with literature informing them that their voting rights are fully restored. Illinois is one of 14 states, along with Washington D.C., that restores voting rights for those convicted of felonies after release.