CHICAGO, IL – Chicago is allowing inmates to vote while incarcerated, making this the first in-person jail voting operation.
Volunteers arrived at Cook County Jail on Saturday (Mar. 10) to ensure detainees had a chance to vote in person. Organizers with a group called Chicago Voters tell WLS-TV that 94% of the inmates are eligible to vote and reinforced the city’s early voting lobby.
Each division of the jail was equipped with a private voting booth, an attorney, and staff from the Chicago and Cook County Board of Elections.
This move is leaving some wondering if it is simply the right thing to do, or if there is a political agenda behind it all.
Gianno Caldwell, a DC area Republican strategist originally from Chicago, told Fox and Friends:
“An interesting fact, and what you don’t really see is that a number of elected officials run these particular jails. Look at Cook County as an example. It is the largest prison system in Illinois. It is run by a man by the name of Sheriff Dart. This is an elected official.
No one has thought about, apparently, where this is an area where they can manipulate inmates to make a certain decision in favor of a candidate that either Sheriff Dart supports or himself.”
There are approximately 7,000 inmates at any given time in the Cook County jail. This should be a serious consideration given that so much corruption takes place in Illinois, specifically in Cook County.”
Michael Starr Hopkins, an attorney, argued those points.
He said that this is not about manipulation:
“I think this is about making sure that everyone can vote. This shows why we need the Voting Rights Acts needs to be restored.
These are people that are in jail, not in prison, so they still have the presumption of innocence and are afforded their right to vote. Just because they are incarcerated doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be allowed to perform their right to vote. I think this is a basic American tenant.”
So, they want to let inmates out of jails because of the dreaded virus and they’re so scared that offenders will contract it inside the facilities, yet they bring an unknown number of volunteers into those same facilities to assure they get to vote, in person. Got it.
At Law Enforcement Today, we firmly believe that our constitutional rights must be upheld and enforced. But do we not forfeit certain rights when incarcerated?
For example, even in pre-trial confinement, an inmate has no reasonable expectation of privacy. Fourth Amendment protection is incompatible with the concept of incarceration, and the needs and objectives of penal institutions.
Prison employees can go through an inmates mail, incoming or outgoing. They are able to search cell areas, bunks and the inmates themselves without reasonable suspicion or probable cause to look for contraband like drugs, weapons and cellphones.
Even with that being the case, the states of Vermont and Maine allow inmates serving time for felony charges to vote while incarcerated. Fourteen other states restore voting rights once a convict has served their time and is released back into society.
A politician in New Jersey went so far as to say that voting keeps people out of prison. Law Enforcement Today shared that story with you in November of last year.
In what has become a commonplace concept, a bill before New Jersey lawmakers could restore voting rights to tens of thousands of people in the state.
The proposal (A5823) allows for residents on probation or parole to cast ballots. It will be on the floor of the state Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Assemblyman Jamel Holley, a Democrat, and one of the bill’s sponsors, said people who had served their time behind bars deserved a say in the political process.
According to New Jersey’s Administrative Office of the Courts, there were more than 56,000 people on probation last year, with an additional 15,500 on parole.
Advocates argue that extending voting rights is an extension of the civil rights movement, because of the criminal justice system’s disproportionate impact on African Americans. They also claim that voting reduces recidivism, and helps people reintegrate into society.
Opponents have argued that losing the right to vote is a just punishment, and that criminals should be kept from influencing public policy.
According to the Huffington Post (of all media companies), there is no magic pill or program that will end recidivism. The most effective programs have been found to reduce recidivism by about 10 to 15 percent; on rare occasion, up to 20 percent. Treatment programs work, but this doesn’t mean that everyone who participates in a program will be crime free upon release.
All the studies on recidivism theorize that full re-enfranchisement, which includes voting rights, reduces the rate by 20%. But again, that is theory. There are no actual numbers to support that.
In fact, one side of the argument is that in the sample group they used to arrive at those numbers, the percentages would have been the same without restoring voting rights.
Taking this one step further, some argue that the removal of voting rights of convicts is purely political. It is simply a move to suppress the vote of blacks, who make up the large portion of the criminal population.
But it can also be argued that those who want to restore these rights are doing so for political gain as well. As African Americans in the U.S. tend to vote for more progressive and left-leaning policies.
Although the bill would still bar people in prison from voting, Holley said he hopes to change that next, and wants to work with the state Department of Corrections and other agencies to discuss inmates voting.
Other states have also changed how they treat people convicted of crimes. Maine and Vermont allow people in prison to vote. Florida recently restored voting rights to felons, but that change is currently before the state’s supreme court.
“They are part of our community,” Holley said.
Where have we heard that before? How about New Jersey’s next-door neighbor?
Feeling that they are being outrun by California in the race to jump off a cliff of to flee logic and common sense, a New York state lawmaker is proposing legislation to make prison inmates eligible to vote in elections, while still incarcerated.
State Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) introduced a bill before Election Day on Tuesday, November 5, that would allow prisoners to register and vote while incarcerated.
The state and county boards of elections would keep tabs on the program and convicted felons would also be allowed to take part.
“If an incarcerated individual can be counted as a whole person in the census, then why can’t their vote be counted in an election?” explained Parker in the bill memo, arguing current laws are unfairly slanted against incarcerated minorities.
Parker’s proposal is even receiving kickback from fellow Democrats, who argue that voting is a right that should be taken away if incarcerated.
“If an individual has committed a crime and is incarcerated, they have lost the right to vote. They should serve their sentence and not be allowed to exercise a right they once held,” State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Suffolk) told the Post.
Democrats also pointed out logistical problems with the legislation, such as a provision that would count the inmate’s vote in the district where he or she lived before incarceration.
“This will conflict with the census count, which is the way we determine legislative districts,” said State Sen. Diane Savino (D-Staten Island).
That’s because legislative districts are determined by an area’s population— which would include the inmates in areas where they once lived before they were locked up.
I guess they will have to use absentee ballots if the measure passes.
This isn’t the first time New York has jumped into the “let’s let criminals have a say in our elections” pool.
In 2018, New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo restored the voting rights of 35,000 convicted felons out on parole.
As he has clearly stated in his campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders’ wants rapists and murderers to vote. But Americans don’t agree with me.
Last week, the Vermont senator was asked to clarify during a CNN town hall if he supports voting rights for people convicted of rape or those like the Boston Marathon bomber.
He said that even “terrible people” should be given permission to vote, saying that it’s a “slippery slope” to disenfranchise any group of people.
“I think that is absolutely the direction we should go,” Sanders said. “In my state, what we do is separate. You’re paying a price, you committed a crime, you’re in jail. That’s bad,” he said. “But you’re still living in American society and you have a right to vote. I believe in that, yes, I do.”
A new INSIDER poll found that 75% of people surveyed don’t agree with Sanders that all prisoners should have voting rights.
The results found that while 35% did say current inmates should be allowed to vote, most said it should only apply to non-violent offenders.
Of those surveyed, 24% believe those convicted of violent offenses should never be allowed to vote, even after being released from prison.
Another 15% said all prisoners – regardless of their crimes – should be allowed to vote from behind bars. A total of 20% said only voters who are convicted of non-violent offenses should be allowed to vote.
What’s the law say? It’s currently decided by states whether current or former inmates are allowed to vote.
In Sanders’ state of Vermont, felons keep their voting rights regardless of whether they’re incarcerated.
There’s a lifetime voting ban on people convicted of murder or rape in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. In Kentucky and Iowa, anyone with a felony record is blocked from voting for life, unless the governor intervenes.
In the voting survey, another 30% said people currently in prison should lose their right to vote but be re-enfranchised when they’re released. Another 24% of those surveyed said those convicted of violent felonies should permanently lose voting rights.
About 10% of respondents said they “don’t know” how they feel about this issue.
According to a non-profit called The Sentencing Project, which is focused on criminal justice reform, some 6.1 million people in America have been “forbidden to vote because of felony disenfranchisement, or laws restricting voting rights for those convicted of felony-level crimes,” according to a 2016 report from the group.
“This is the last major voting bloc that is missing from our democracy,” said Marc Mauer, the executive director of the Sentencing Project.
In the survey, there was a sharp divide in views on this issue along party lines.
Nearly half of likely Democratic primary voters – a total of 47% – support enfranchising prisoners in some capacity. On the Republican side? 21%.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, Vice President Mike Pence, President Donald Trump, and even some 2020 Democrat contenders for President have attacked the idea.
“Let the Boston bomber vote — he should be voting, right?” Mr. Trump said in a speech to members of the National Rifle Association. “I don’t think so. Let terrorists that are in prison vote, I don’t think so. Can you believe it? But this is where some of these people are coming from,” said President Trump.
In an attempt at relevancy, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat from New York, weighed in.
“Instead of asking, ‘Should the Boston Bomber have the right to vote?,’” she wrote on Twitter, “Try, ‘Should a nonviolent person stopped w/ a dime bag LOSE the right to vote?’”
That question, she wrote, applies to “WAY more people.”
Sanders says other countries do it… so America should, too.
He then doubled down on it:
“Every American citizen must be able to vote,” he tweeted. “Period.”
Sanders’ campaign manager responded to the president and vice president:
“If Trump and Pence truly believed in freedom, they would work to make it easier for people to participate in the political process, not harder.”
Currently there are 48 states that allow felons to regain their voting rights after they are released from prison, but it depends on where a person is incarcerated. For example, some states automatically restore them after release, others do so after parole or probation is completed, and others depend on the crime committed.
Florida became a hot debate state after a November measure restored voting rights to more than 1.4 million people who lost them because of their criminal records.
There are currently about 130 other felon voting rights bills working their way through 30 state legislatures, with at least four states currently considering allowing people presently incarcerated to allow to vote.
And depending on the results of November’s presidential election, we could see this type of legislation become a national agenda.
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