ACLU reminds jail officials of their duty to help detained residents vote
State elections are Tuesday, and some are worried that jailed residents won’t get to cast their vote.
The American Civil Liberties Union issued a press release earlier this month urging local and regional jail authorities to remember their civic duty in protecting the voting rights of those in jail awaiting trial or serving a misdemeanor sentence on Election Day.
The ACLU of Virginia, a local chapter of the non-profit organization that works to protect civil and equal rights for Virginians, sent a letter to local and regional sheriff offices throughout the state reminding jail officials of state law, which mandates that “all registered voters detained in jail can request an absentee ballot and, under certain circumstances, must be taken by jail officials to a polling site on Election Day.”
Absentee ballots by mail applications were due Oct. 29, but absentee ballots returned to local general registrar’s offices can be submitted until 7 p.m. on Election Day.
Even though constitutional law requires jail officials to transport eligible voters to polling sites, the ACLU said this doesn’t always happen.
“We have received a number of unverified but credible reports that local sheriffs and regional jail superintendents are telling people they cannot vote while being held in jail, which clearly is not true,” ACLU of Virginia Director of Strategic Communications Bill Farrar said.
The Virginia Department of Corrections was asked for a comment but could not respond in time for publication.
Farrar said the ACLU wants to make sure officials understand their obligation under the law because it has important implications.
“Remaining connected to [the] community while incarcerated through activities such as voting has been found to aid in re-entry and reduce recidivism,” the letter said.
Farrar said the ACLU does not plan on backing off this issue anytime soon.
“They [officials] must assist people in their care to exercise their right,” he said.
Henrico County Sheriff Michael Wade said Henrico’s two jails “always allow the ability for an absentee ballot,” which, he said, eligible voters can sign up for in the jail libraries. He said he was unsure how many voters had signed up to submit absentee ballots this election, adding “everyone has the right to vote, but I try to stay out of it.”
Polling places open at 6 a.m. Tuesday and run until 7 p.m.