State Legislature should overturn Rauner veto on bill that empowers those in pre-trial detention to vote

To the Editor:

I’m writing in response to Aaron Gettinger’s excellent piece praising the high voter turnout in Hyde Park in the recent midterm elections. I was thrilled to see this expression of civic enthusiasm from my neighbors, and I would like to add that the state legislature in Springfield has a unique opportunity to push voter turnout even higher in the current veto session.

At present, the state is under no obligation to provide voters incarcerated in pre-trial detention (i.e. jail) the opportunity to vote. These are citizens not yet convicted of any crime, but who are jailed due to inability to produce cash bail before their trials. The bill in question would require jails to enable incarcerated persons to cast a ballot in each election for which they are eligible. The bill would also require authorities to provide inmates with information about their voting rights including a voter registration form upon release. The bill (formerly HB4469, it has not yet been assigned a new number) passed with bipartisan support earlier this year but Gov. Rauner declined to sign the bill into law. Rauner indicated he would sign only if the bill were amended to remove the requirement to provide voting rights information to released detainees. As a volunteer with voting rights activism group ChicagoVotes, once per month I register voters at Cook County Jail, where more than 94% of the some 6,000 people incarcerated are eligible to vote. I have seen firsthand the enthusiasm my fellow citizens had to create positive change in their local and national communities through participation in elections.

The state legislature has an opportunity to vote to override the (soon to be former) Governor’s veto, allowing the roughly 20,000 people in pre-trial detention in Illinois the opportunity to exercise their right to cast a ballot. 20,000 people whose only crime is not producing cash bail, 20,000 people who may not know they are still eligible to vote after an arrest or conviction. I urge all citizens who exercised their right to vote last week to stay engaged: call, email, or tweet at your legislators to pass this bill! Voter disenfranchisement has no place in our democracy, and Illinois can confirm our commitment to free and fair elections for all this week.

 

Sincerely,

Erin Connelly, Hyde Park