Illinois Jails Are Now Required To Make Sure Detained People Can Use Their Voting Rights

People awaiting trial are often eligible to vote but don't know it.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signed a bill Wednesday requiring jails across his state to ensure that people in jail awaiting trial can vote if they want to.

The law is a significant victory for activists who argued there is widespread confusion about voting eligibility in jail. Illinois blocks people convicted of crimes from voting while they are incarcerated, but many people don’t know they can vote if they haven’t been convicted of a crime and are awaiting trial in jail.

The new law, effective immediately, requires corrections officials in counties with fewer than 3 million people to implement a process to allow people to vote absentee. It also requires corrections officials in Cook County to set up a temporary polling place in jail. People detained in prison will be eligible to vote in elections for the jurisdictions they would be living in if they weren’t in jail.

Corrections officials will also be required to provide people leaving jail, prison or Department of Corrections custody with information about their voter eligibility, as well as a voter registration application.

There are an estimated 20,000 people detained in Illinois jails awaiting trial, according to the Illinois chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. But in 2018, just eight of the state’s 102 counties had formal programs to help that population vote, according to an analysis by the Illinois ACLU and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. Turnout in jails in those eight counties was just 13% in the 2016 presidential election and 2018 primaries, a Mother Jones analysis found.

Illinois lawmakers approved a similar version of the bill last year, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican. Rauner lost his reelection bid to Pritzker in the fall.

Pritzker also signed a separate bill Wednesday that will require people to receive peer-led civics training before they leave jail custody.

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