Case Study  

Jail-Based Voting in the District of Columbia: A Case Study

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Red, white, and blue

While many people are aware of the restrictions formerly incarcerated individuals face in voting, few know about the challenges faced by another group of incarcerated citizens: people in pretrial detention and those incarcerated for misdemeanors. Despite having the right to vote, incarcerated persons often confront challenges in registering and/or voting while being held. In the last few years, organizers, election administrators, and corrections staff in a handful of jurisdictions have taken an innovative approach to address this problem, making the jail an early vote center and setting up a polling place right in the facility.

The District of Columbia is one of the first jurisdictions to do this, and their success with the program can inform the efforts of policymakers, election administrators, jail staff, and organizers to put similar programs in place and successfully implement them in other jurisdictions. This case study tells the story of Washington, D.C., through the eyes of those who have been directly involved. It presents the evolution of jail voting in the district, what it took to get it to happen, the logistics of its successful implementation, the challenges it has presented, and how different stakeholders in the process have made it work. It demonstrates that providing incarcerated people with a true opportu- nity to vote is not overly burdensome and is something they will enthusiastically participate in. Furthermore, it suggests that the voting experience may have positive impacts on the voters that could carry over into future elections.

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