ACLU: Sheriffs, jail superintendents must assist detained eligible voters
The ACLU of Virginia has sent a letter to sheriffs and superintendents of local and regional jails as Election Day approaches to remind them of their duty to protect the voting rights of people currently detained in local and regional jails while awaiting trial or serving a misdemeanor sentence.
“Preventing someone from exercising their voting rights is illegal and undermines the presumption of innocence that is integral to our legal system,” ACLU-VA Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastañaga wrote in the letter to jail officials. “This is also important because national statistics show that people of color and low-income individuals are disproportionately represented in jail populations.”
All members of the Virginia legislature and local prosecutors in Virginia’s counties are all on the ballot for this Election Day, Nov. 5.
State law allows all registered voters detained in jail who are either convicted of misdemeanors only or who are awaiting trial to request an absentee ballot and, under certain circumstances, jail officials must take them to a polling site on Election Day.
More than 28,000 people are being held in local and regional jails in Virginia on any given night. Black Virginians make up only about 20 percent of the state’s population, but they comprise 43 percent of Virginia’s jail population, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center. Many pre-trial detainees are in jail due to unfair practices in the legal system, such as excessive bail requirements or other restrictive conditions of release.
The ACLU-VA is asking sheriffs and jail superintendents to honor the voting rights of jail residents by disseminating voting rights information, inviting registrars to facilitate registration of eligible voters in their facilities, making absentee ballot applications accessible and facilitating their timely return to the local registrar, and taking other steps to protect the voting rights of all eligible Virginians in their custody.