Voting Rights In County Jail? Yes Sir!

D. L. Patterson

You have voting rights even if you are in County Jail.

If you are being detained in one of Ohio’s 72 county jails awaiting trial, or know someone who is, rest assured that you are still entitled to cast a vote.  There is an ingrained misnomer at work in Ohio, and other states that being incarcerated pre-trial strips you of that right.  However the reality is that even if you’ve been charged with a felony, but have not yet been convicted, you still have the right to vote.

Voting rights activists nationwide are working feverishly to not only make sure that those sitting in county jails are aware of their right to vote, but are developing working relationships with sheriff’s departments, county clerks, mayors, and other bureaucrats to formulate mail-in and other voting procedures to simplify the process for this drastically under-served sector of our voting populace.

I was privileged to connect to a webinar on this subject sponsored by the Sentencing Project, called “Voting in Jails.”  This effort was moderated by the Sentencing Project’s Nicole Porter and featured Pauline Rogers from the Reaching & Educating for Community Hope (RECH) Foundation in Mississippi, Juston Cooper with the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition in Denver, Durrel Douglas of the Houston Justice Coalition, and Dana Paikowsky, a Voting Rights lawyer with the Campaign Legal Center.  The webinar focused on the initiatives spearheaded by these leaders in their respective cities and how innovative measures have been put in place to give a voice to the pre-trial incarcerated, many of whom mistakenly believe their ability to vote was extinguished when they entered these county facilities despite not actually being saddled with a criminal conviction.

Perhaps innovators like these folks will spur Cleveland residents to engage in this work. If anyone is interested, the ACLU has created “Voting in Jail: An Organizer’s Toolkit,” (link appears below) to assist in these efforts.  Let us not forget that many courageous black men and women died to provide for and protect this right.

Now more than ever, we need every vote we can get.