Reclaiming Power

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On Tuesday, November 6, voters in Florida approved a constitutional amendment to restore the right to vote to 1.4 million people with conviction histories. That could potentially make a huge difference in future elections. There are approximately 4 million people in Illinois who have a past felony conviction, all of whom are eligible to vote in Illinois. Yet, many of these citizens aren’t aware of their right to vote.

Until the recent election, we had people in Florida who were permanently disenfranchised due to past felony convictions. In Illinois, we have people with felony conviction histories who are eligible to vote, but aren’t aware of their right or fail to exercise it. People’s Liberty Project, a new initiative of CRS, has set a goal to build a voting block that consists of people directly impacted by the criminal justice system. With 4 million people in Illinois who have a past felony conviction, there exists a potential power base that’s able to bring about impactful systemic change for marginalized people.

There are approximately 20,000 people detained in jail, awaiting trial in Illinois, who have the right to vote in elections. However, without a formal process in place, voting in jail is nearly impossible for pre-trial detainees.

HB 4469 will require Illinois county jails and election authorities to collaborate in creating a process that ensures that all pre-trial detainees can cast their ballot during elections. The bill will also require Illinois Department of Corrections and county jails to provide eligible citizens a voter registration application upon release. HB 4469 includes a provision that would turn Cook County Jail into a polling place to encourage even more voter participation.

Governor Rauner vetoed HB 4469 with recommendations to take out the parts of the legislation that would require voting materials to be distributed to those in custody of county jails. Rauner characterized the bill as an unfunded mandate on the overburdened Illinois Department of Corrections.

A new version of HB 4469 will be reintroduced to the Illinois General Assembly in January, 2019 and will include new elements that would ensure that:

  • Election judges are nonpartisan and independent of the Department of Corrections.

  • The voting process adheres to the American with Disabilities Act.

  • Those who facilitate future vote-by-mail programs within county jails receive training.

Help us inform people being detained in county jails and people with conviction histories. Contact your state legislators and let them know you support voting rights for all eligible citizens of Illinois.