Ohio Should Institute Policies to Assist Late-Jailed Voters In Light of Sixth Circuit Decision
CINCINNATI, OH – Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit permitted Ohio to continue its practice of disenfranchising eligible voters arrested and held in pre-trial detention in the final days preceding an election. This reverses a November 2019 decision by the district court in Mays v. LaRose, which found that Ohio violated the Equal Protection Clause by denying late-jailed voters the ability – offered to late-hospitalized voters – to request absentee ballots through 3pm on Election Day. The lawsuit was brought by Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Dēmos and the MacArthur Justice Center.
“Innocent until proven guilty should also apply to the right to vote,” said Mark Gaber, director, trial litigation at CLC. “People awaiting trial have the right to vote and we will continue to fight for them across the nation. The court got it wrong, but Ohio should follow the lead of jurisdictions like Colorado, Arizona, Illinois, and Washington D.C. by adopting policies that ensure jailed voters are informed of their rights, election officials are required to create plans for jail voting, and real voting options are provided to those in jail.”
“The Sixth Circuit recognized that people jailed in the final days before an election have no way to get a ballot and responded, in substance, too bad,” said Naila Awan, Senior Counsel at Dēmos. “Despite today’s disappointing opinion, we remain committed to working with community groups to protect voting rights for jailed Ohio voters who are eligible to vote and deserve a voice at the ballot box.”
“People who are held in jail awaiting charge are innocent until proven guilty and have the Constitutional right to vote,” said Jonathan Manes, attorney at the MacArthur Justice Center. “Today’s decision is profoundly mistaken because it allows Ohio to deny the vote to many people held in jail on Election Day, even while it extends special voting assistance to other people who are hospitalized and cannot make it to the polls. We will continue to advocate for fair treatment and voting rights of people entangled in the criminal legal system.”
What other jurisdictions are doing to help late-jailed voters:
About 750,000 people are incarcerated in jails across the United States every day, most of whom retain the right to vote. Casting a ballot, though, can be impossible for these eligible voters simply because they are incarcerated. There is plenty election officials can do to change this de facto disenfranchisement:
- Arizona and Colorado’s Secretaries of State have adopted rules requiring local election officials to design and implement plans to provide ballots to eligible voters in jails.
- Chicago passed a law putting a polling location in its largest jail, in Cook County.
- Washington D.C. does direct outreach to voters in jails, providing them with voter registration assistance and helps them cast ballots.
- Maryland is considering a bill that would notify eligible voters in jails that they are eligible and instruct them on how to cast ballots.
CLC has launched a program to fight jail-based disenfranchisement using advocacy and litigation to ensure eligible voters in jails have the ballot access they need to exercise their fundamental right to vote. Learn more.