Lawmakers hope to bring polling locations to county jails, but face opposition

Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 6:11 PM CDT
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(WIFR) - A bill signed into law by Governor J.B. Pritzker one year ago expanded the ability to vote by mail in all elections, but could also expand voting rights for inmates.

“We wanted to make it clear in the state of Illinois that we are empowering people to vote,” said State Representative Maurice West, one of the main sponsors.

Senate Bill 825 could increase the number of voters mailing in ballots come November, but it also allows law enforcement to choose if inmates in county jails can vote in person, giving them the option to provide a polling location in the jail.

“We’re making it easier for them to vote, it’s still safe and secure, but yet more accessible,” West said.

However, some Stateline leaders tell 23 News they will not move forward with that provision in the bill. Boone County Clerk Julie Bliss says it’s simply because inmates in the jail aren’t interested.

“In the last five years I haven’t had anybody ask me about even wanting to vote,” she said.

But that doesn’t mean inmates can’t vote at all.

“Anybody who is a resident of Boone who is in our county jail, we would get them a vote by mail ballot- same thing with Winnebago or McHenry or any of the other counties,” Bliss said.

Boone County representatives provide inmates with voter information when they arrive at the jail and will reconsider if they see interest rising for in-person voting.

“If we had a lot of people that are asking then of course that would be a great benefit to have that in there instead of voting by mail for sure,” Bliss told 23 News.

Winnebago County leaders tell 23 News they will have an answer on Wednesday to whether or not they will go forward with this option.