E-Alerts & Press Releases

Voting Procedures Clarified for Incarcerated Voters

THE PUBLIC JUSTICE CENTER AND THE STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS COLLABORATE TO CLARIFY PROPER VOTING PROCEDURES FOR ELIGIBLE INCARCERATED VOTERS

Responding to concerns raised by the Public Justice Center, the State Board of Elections has issued new guidelines to clarify the confusion regarding registration and eligibility requirements for incarcerated persons.  These guidelines come in the wake of a survey of Maryland’s local election boards – conducted earlier this year by the National Right to Vote Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the Public Justice Center – concluding that many of Maryland’s local Boards of Elections could be unlawfully preventing eligible persons from registering and voting because of a lack of knowledge of – or familiarity with – the procedures applicable to persons in jail.

Under Maryland law, incarceration per se does not disqualify a voter.  Rather, a person must be convicted of theft or certain “infamous crimes.”  In such cases, the person cannot vote unless and until s/he fulfills a variety of requirements.  Persons who are in jail awaiting trial, who are simply charged with a crime but have never been convicted of a disqualifying crime, however, remain eligible to register and vote.

The survey found a significant number of the local boards surveyed did not understand the voter registration procedures for persons in jail, and a significant number did not know what address a person in jail or prison should use when registering to vote.  Even more problematic, the survey showed that some local election boards may not follow up with a voter who uses an incorrect address.

The State Board has an obligation to enforce compliance with the State’s Election Laws, including laws that protect the right of incarcerated people to vote. Because local boards may not choose to follow voter eligibility laws selectively, PJC submitted a letter to the State Board seeking their cooperation to address the concerns raised by the survey and ensure that local election boards clearly understand and implement the law as it impacts eligible voters in jail.

The State Board agreed to address the PJC’s concerns by developing uniform guidelines that address incarcerated voters and educate and train the local boards.  The guidelines now clarify that any incarcerated individual who is eligible to vote may apply to register to vote.  The guidelines also emphasize that eligible voters in jail must:  (1) be permitted to register by mail or other available means, (2)  permitted to vote by absentee ballot, and (3) be counseled that when applying to vote, they must identify their residential address, but may use the jail as their mailing address.  The guidelines are expected to be distributed to local boards early next week.  PJC staff attorney Sally Dworak-Fisher and Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Roscoe Jones, Jr. are leading this effort for the PJC.

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