The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin released a report Monday that found unclear Wisconsin jail voting policies were preventing inmates from exercising their right to vote.
There are roughly 13,000 inmates in the state on a given day, the majority of whom are eligible to vote, according to the ACLU. While Wisconsin requires jails to distribute ballots and registration opportunities to all eligible voters in their facilities, substantial variance in voting policy exists between facilities.
The ACLU found 47 out of 66 counties that responded to records requests indicated they do have voting policies in place. However, most facilities examined in the report utilized “brief policies with vague language” and were not actively encouraging inmates to register and participate in elections.
“The alarming lack of protocol across existing procedures creates a voting environment rife with inconsistency and confusion,” the report said. “This high degree of variability is one of the many compounding factors that can exacerbate the barriers faced by individuals who attempt to vote within a jail.”
Many incarcerated individuals in Wisconsin don’t exercise their right to vote, even when there are no legal barriers, according to the ACLU. Their report found only 50 Wisconsin inmates cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election and just 60 were registered to vote.
Under Wisconsin law, only a small number of individuals with jail or prison sentences permanently lose their right to vote.
Individuals convicted of misdemeanors do not lose their right to vote, even when serving a jail sentence. Convicted felons do lose the right to vote while serving a prison sentence but regain their constitutional right to vote after their sentences are complete.
However, ACLU Wisconsin statewide coalition and relations advocate Melissa Ludin said inconsistency among statewide jail policies continues to disenfranchise inmates.
“Most people in jail do not know that they can vote,” Ludin said. “Let’s change that. Let’s remind them of their dignity and remind them of the power they still have.