While most of the country is actively engaged in the election process, an entire class of individuals — inmates in Washington state jails — can’t participate because the officials charged with overseeing them have failed to provide the tools and information needed to make that happen, according to a new report. An investigation by Disability Rights Washington found only a handful of Washington state’s 38 county jails have a policy for facilitating the voting process for inmates and few of those facilities actually follow those procedures, the report said. The result: Thousands of citizens who have the constitutional right to vote are not able to register, receive ballots or cast a vote, the report said. Unlike prison inmates, who generally have felony convictions and have lost their voting rights, most jail inmates are awaiting trial or have been found guilty of a misdemeanor charge, so they maintain their voting rights.
“Given jails’ control of all information and materials coming into and out of their facilities, it is not surprising that when staff do not have a plan about how to inform people how they can register, get voting information, and cast a ballot while locked up in this highly restrictive environment, people do not vote,” said David Carlson, the group’s legal director and author of the report.
The lack of voting support disproportionately impacts people with disabilities, since people held in jails are four times more likely to have a disability than the general public, Carlson said.