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Many Jail Inmates Still Unable To Cast Election Ballots

It's nearly impossible for incarcerated people in many states to vote. Many of the 11 million booked into county jails are too poor to post bail or just serving misdemeanor sentences. Those without felony convictions are still eligible to vote but can't exercise that right, Axios reports. Registered voters who were booked into county jails during 2020 voting days were 46 percent less likely to vote that year, compared to people who were in jail shortly after Election Day, according to a study from the New York University Public Safety Lab. The estimated negative effect was much larger for Black registered voters, who were 78 percent less likely to vote in 2020 if booked into county jails for the entire duration of 2020 voting days.

In 16 states, voting by absentee ballot is permitted only when a voter claims one of a short list of recognized justifications, says the National Conference of State Legislatures. In most of these states detention in jail is not recognized justification. In these states, people in jail are de facto barred from casting a ballot, says the Prison Policy Initiative. States with strict voter ID laws don't accept government-issued prison or jail ID cards to vote. Voting-eligible Americans who are incarcerated pretrial or serving misdemeanor sentences in county jails are legally entitled to vote while incarcerated in every state. "The fundamental bottom line is that the people who are responsible for administering county jails are not fulfilling their obligation to ensure that people who are being incarcerated are able to exercise their right to vote," said Anna Harvey, an author of the NYU study.

Some county jails in major metropolitan areas including Denver, Dallas, Chicago and Phoenix are working to make voting accessible.


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