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WI Sees Improvement in Access for Jail-Based Voting


Monday, June 28, 2021   

MADISON, Wis. - New findings have been issued in the effort to get more Wisconsin counties to improve voting access in their jail systems. Advocates say the results are promising, but they're concerned too many people still aren't getting a chance to cast their ballots.

In states like Wisconsin, a person being held in jail before trial is eligible to vote, but civil-rights advocates say historically, sheriff's departments haven't established policies to ensure that happens.

Last year, fewer than half of Wisconsin counties had a policy. Now, nearly two-thirds do.

Eileen Newcomer, voter education manager for the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, said it's a step in the right direction.

"Formal policies are important," said Newcomer, "as they provide written acknowledgment that most people in jail have the right to vote, and that jail administrators are committed to protecting that right."

But she warned not all policies are comprehensive, and nearly 20% of county jails still have no policy.

A new report from the coalition says in the 2020 election, only 50 of the roughly 13,000 people held in county jails across Wisconsin were able to participate.

Shauntay Nelson, Wisconsin state director for the group All Voting is Local, said even with more counties paying attention to this issue, there isn't enough public awareness or acknowledgment of the rights of these individuals.

"We know that residents of local jails are still taxed, and they're used to allocate resources," said Nelson. "Therefore, they should have the freedom to [have] their voices being heard through the ballot."

The coalition's report offers a series of recommendations for jail administrators as they look to improve or implement voting policies. They include designating a staff member to coordinate the voting process, assisting with eligibility, and providing access to voting information.

Support for this reporting was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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