Most of the more than 600,000 people locked up in jails are detained pretrial, and therefore, legally innocent. And, in most states people detained in jails on a misdemeanor conviction remain eligible to vote. This means that those who met the voter registration qualifications in their state at the time of their incarceration remain eligible to vote in elections. In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled that not only are they eligible to vote, they have a right to cast an absentee ballot just like any other voter who cannot vote in person. However, as we detailed in our report Eligible but Excluded: A guide to removing the barriers to jail voting, an insurmountable series of obstacles and a lack of awareness prohibit most of them from doing so.

In recent years, advocates have successfully pressured a small but growing list of governments to address some of these obstacles by establishing polling locations inside local jails where eligible, detained voters can cast their ballots. We have found seven jails that make in-person voting available:

  • Cook County Jail (Chicago, Ill.
  • D.C. Central Detention Facility (Washington, D.C)
  • Denver County Jail and Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center (both Denver, Colo.)
  • Harris County Jail (Houston, Texas)
  • Century Regional Detention Facility (Los Angeles, Calif.)
  • Will County Detention Center (Joliet, Ill.)

Data about voter turnout at these jails is hard to come by, so it is difficult to know exactly how many eligible, detained voters have used these polling locations. However, the emerging evidence shows, when combined with outreach and education to ensure incarcerated voters know what steps they must take to cast their ballots, jail-based polling locations are not only feasible, they’re effective: when people know they can vote from jail, they will vote.

Read the full article about jail-based voting by Naila Awan at Prison Policy Initiative.