MI Coalition Spotlights Need for Jail-Based Voting Improvements
Voting-rights groups in Michigan are working to increase awareness about and access to voting in jails.
In Michigan, anyone not serving a prison sentence is eligible to vote, although there are barriers often making it nearly impossible for those in jail pre- or mid-trial. They may not be fully aware of their voting rights, and lack internet access and the materials needed to learn about candidates and issues, or to register and cast a ballot.
Local groups are working to increase voter outreach in jails, and advocating for policies to make it easier.
Percy Glover, member of the Voting Access for All Coalition and a Genessee County Ambassador, explained part of the challenge of getting people in jail reconnected with voting.
"Being in jail and being in prison is very destructive on people. They doubt the system. They don't trust the system," Glover pointed out. "Some of them may have been also wrongfully arrested, wrongfully detained, so why would I be interested in voting?"
Glover urged educating eligible voters in jail, and building out jail-based voting systems across all county jails in Michigan. He also hopes Michigan will follow Maine, Vermont and Washington, D.C., in allowing people in prison to vote as well.
Amani Sawari, justice services director for Spread the Vote, which is partnering with Michigan to create a "vote-by-mail in jail program" program. They help with voter registration by paying for expenses required for jailed voters to obtain an ID, and providing stamps, envelopes, forms and voter guides.
"Our goal is to create if not an in-person program, at least a remote process for jailed voters," Sawari emphasized. "To not only register while incarcerated, but to also receive their absentee ballot to their place of incarceration, so that they can fully participate in voting."
Other states where Spread the Vote is working to facilitate jail-based voting include neighboring Wisconsin and Indiana. As Juneteenth approaches this Sunday, the Voting Access for All Coalition is spotlighting the ways social issues like poverty and race are intertwined in the criminal legal system as well as affecting voting rights.
Support for this reporting was provided by The Carnegie Corporation of New York.