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Protect Ballot Access for Illinoisans Held in Pretrial Detention

This week the Illinois Senate will consider a critical bill that would secure ballot access for tens of thousands of individuals held in pretrial detention across the state, as well as for Illinoisans returning from incarceration. If enacted, SB 2090 would establish a temporary polling branch within Cook County Jail and require all county jails throughout the state to implement programs allowing eligible inmates to vote by mail. The bill would also mandate prisons and jails to regularly provide inmates with accurate information on voting eligibility. Moreover, IDOC would be obligated to ensure that individuals are provided with a voter registration application upon release.

Current state policy does not adequately protect the voting rights of eligible constituents with current and previous involvement in the criminal justice system. Without robust enforcement of suffrage rights, the electoral interests of millions of residents held in pretrial detention are systematically suppressed by the state.

In 2005, Illinois amended its electoral policy to allow detained individuals awaiting trial to participate in elections. However, due to a lack of oversight, jails routinely restrict inmates' access to the ballot. In 2016, only 23 of the 109 Illinois election authorities show records of voting from jail. Black Illinoisans, who are disproportionately targeted by pretrial detention practices, are particularly impacted by jail voter suppression.

State election law extends voting eligibility to the four million previously incarcerated individuals residing in Illinois. However, research indicates that the overwhelming majority of community members with felony records are unaware of their right to vote, due to widespread misinformation. Hundreds of thousands of residents are thereby, in effect, systematically disenfranchised.

SB 2090 proposes important steps to better protect the voting rights of individuals impacted by the criminal justice system. By expanding voter registration, ballot access and eligibility awareness in jails and prisons, the bill would promote more equitable representation in the democratic process.

Your voice is crucial to advancing the fight for racial equity, opportunity and justice. Advocate for the change you want to see in your city, state and beyond by visiting WCRJ’s Racial Justice Online Action Center and demanding policy action of your elected officials now.

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