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Report: PA Lacks Universal Policy for Voting in Jails


Wednesday, September 15, 2021   

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Many Pennsylvania county jails don't have clear policies to support voting access for people in jails, according to a new report that says this inconsistency leaves some eligible voters in the dark.

The groups All Voting Is Local, Common Cause Pennsylvania and Committee of Seventy filed right-to-know requests with 61 county jails, asking for their voting procedures for people incarcerated. They learned there's no universal plan for providing information on voter registration or getting ballots to the 25,000 people in county jails.

Aerion Abney, special-projects director for All Voting is Local, said that without any processes in place, it leaves those prospective voters disenfranchised.

"You're basically telling the person in jail, 'It's your own responsibility, it's up to you to know who to call to even ask for a voter-registration form.' When you don't do that," he said, "you have a whole segment of the voting bloc that may not even know that they have the right to cast a ballot."

Of the 46 county jails that responded, 57% had no written policy on jail voting. The report also found in the entire state jail population, only 52 people requested mail-in ballots in the 2020 general election at 18 of the county jails.

The report suggested maintaining relationships with county election officials and providing voter-registration opportunities are pathways forward for county jails. Abney said helping people in jail determine their voting eligibility can have a major impact, even after they're released.

"We really see this as an opportunity to create positive voting experiences for people who are in jail, and there are longterm benefits to that happening," he said. "When they have positive experiences with voting, they tend to vote again in the future."

The report also recommended making mail-in ballot applications readily available. Abney said he'd like to see some of these solutions in place for the November election.

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