Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) blocked legislation on Friday that would have required corrections officials throughout the state to help people detained in jails and prisons understand whether they can vote. The bill would have required election and corrections officials to offer ballots to people being detained in jail prior to their trials who want to vote. It would have also required corrections officials to provide voter registration forms to people being released from jail and information about voting rights to those leaving prison. The bill was meant to reduce the confusion about voting rights that contributes to voter disenfranchisement. People detained in jails often have no idea they are eligible to vote, let alone how to request a ballot to do so. The policies governing whether felons can vote when they are released from prison vary widely from state to state. Offenders, as well as parole officers and other corrections officials, can easily be confused about who has the right to vote.
The bill would have especially benefited members of minority groups that tend to be disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system, according to Michelle Mbekeani-Wiley, an attorney at the Sargent Shriver Center on National Poverty Law who helped write the legislation. She estimated that 4 million people in Illinois with felony convictions could have been affected by the legislation.
“Just imagine if all those 4 million people had accurate information on whether they had the right to vote or not in this state and actually exercised that right to vote,” Mbekeani-Wiley told HuffPost. “I mean, who really benefits from having a demographic that is predominantly black and Latino not being informed of their right to vote in this state? I think it requires us to have an honest conversation about why you wouldn’t want to empower people to participate in the political process. Is it a detriment to your party? Is this a partisan decision?”