MADISON – Most county jails in Wisconsin don’t have systems in place to track registration or voting requests from eligible jailed voters, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report, which relies on records from 61 of the state’s 72 counties, also found that more than half of these counties do not have any written policies detailing how someone in jail can register to vote and cast a ballot.
The report was written by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin and the advocacy group All Voting is Local.
There are more than 12,500 people in Wisconsin jails, according to the Department of Corrections. Those awaiting trial and individuals convicted of most misdemeanors in Wisconsin are able to vote while jailed. Wisconsinites serving sentences for felonies are prohibited from voting.
Of the 61 counties included in the report, only five — Kenosha, Marathon, Milwaukee, Portage and Waukesha — have a detailed procedure on how to facilitate registration and voting from jail.
Kenosha County’s policy, for example, calls for a facility-based inmate voting liaison who helps inmates check registration status, get registered and complete absentee ballot applications.
The ACLU notes that 28 counties have “brief policies with vague language” regarding voting in jails but said these policies do not explain Wisconsin laws or detail how jails should implement them.
The report also lays out a series of recommendations for jail administrators, including requests to give inmates sufficient information about candidates and election deadlines.
The ACLU of Wisconsin asked that people in jails be allowed to check their registration status online and have access to personal information — like a photo ID — in order to vote.
The ACLU’s report comes two days after a panel of federal judges reinstated limits on early voting and banned most voters across the state from having absentee ballots emailed or faxed to them.
The report emphasized the risks of the coronavirus pandemic and said people who vote from jail “must be given an opportunity to request their absentee ballot.” But it also calls on the elections commission and municipal clerks to look into establishing election day polling places within county jails.
Ryeshia Farmer of the ACLU of Wisconsin in a statement to the Journal Sentinel noted that people in jails “experience exacerbated disenfranchisement.” She said the state must implement policies that make the right to vote for inmates “as practical as it is theoretical.”
“People who are in jail are part of our communities and they should be able to maintain their connections, including something so fundamental as exercising their right to vote and then having their vote counted,” Farmer said.
Contact Lawrence Andrea at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @lawrencegandrea.