As the 2020 presidential election is underway, more than ever people are showing up to vote, including those awaiting trial are voting from jail.
The Public Act 101-0442 by the people of the State of Illinois reads “each elections authority in a county with a populations under 3,000,000 shall collaborate in a county with the primary county jail where eligible voters are confined or detained who are within the jurisdiction of the elections authority to facilitate and opportunity for voting by mail for voters eligible to vote in the elections jurisdiction who are confined or detained in the county jails.”
The law took effect Jan.1, allowing county jails to inform those who have not yet been convicted to educate them about their right to vote by mail or in-person voting.
“Our office has worked with the Sheriff’s department for over a decade, long before this became a law. We have always provided voter registration forms and other voter information," McLean County Clerk Kathy Micheal said.
Micheal explained when a person incarcerated requests a ballot, they can actually walk over to the Law and Justice Center, which is only a couple blocks away.
During the Mar. 17 presidential primary, the McLean County Clerk’s office assisted whoever they could when it comes to voter registration efforts.
The McLean County Clerk office and Sheriff's department have for years worked with Michelle Cook of Job's Partnership in providing voter information and vote by mail ballots to those both re-entering society as well as those still in the jail system awaiting trial and to others as well needing voter information.
Michelle Hernandez, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Illinois spoke about the facility's actions towards having proper access to vote, especially the operations being distributed during a pandemic.
“What we were seeing, and what we saw in the Primary for various reasons the voter turnout was very low in a lot of Illinois jails. We're still trying to monitor how to best address that issue,” Hernandez said.
“A big problem that we are having is we don’t have access to Illinois jails because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of them have had additional restrictions on visitations, so this year we weren’t able to go to the jail and help folks register to vote.”
It is unclear how this situation will affect the election because of limitations due to the pandemic.
“I think it's very exciting this change happened and the jails and Sheriffs are required to share information with eligible voters in custody,” Hernandez said.
Cook County jail, which is the largest in Illinois, facilitates an in-person voting procedure. Every other facility in Illinois is required a vote by mail process which some counties have developed before the law came into effect.
“The data we have now from the March primaries are reflective of the effects of the pandemic. Since the elections happened right around the time the facilities were being locked down to limit the spread of the virus," Hernandez said.
Hernandez wants to bring awareness to ensure those who are incarcerated have access to all of their rights, including voting rights. Focusing on the fact that those who are incarcerated aren’t disenfranchised and have rights that shouldn’t be violated.