This year, Out for Justice and the Expand the Ballot coalition has introduced legislation that would break down barriers which prevent currently and formerly incarcerated men and women from exercizing their right to vote by putting systems in place to better facilitate the voting process for those 'Behind the Walls' - as well as those being released from incarceration.
HB222/SB224, sponsored by Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins and Senator Chris West, would require the state Board of Elections adopt regulations establishing a program to inform individuals incarcerated in a correctional facility who have the right to vote (of upcoming elections and how they may exercise the right to vote. The bill also requires the Department of Safety and Corrections to: 1. Provide each individual who is released from a State or local correctional facility with a voter registration application and documentation with the individual’s discharge papers that informs the individual that their voting rights have been restored; 2. Displays a sign in each parole and probation office, in a conspicuous location where notices to the public are customarily posted, indicating that any individual who is no longer incarcerated has the right to vote; and 3. Posts a notice, in a conspicuous location on the department’s website, indicating that any individual who is no longer incarcerated has the right to vote.
Each correctional facility must work with the state and local board of elections to: 1. Disseminate information on eligibility requirements to register to vote and voter registration applications to eligible voters at least 30 days before the deadline to register to vote before each election; 2. Disseminate instructions on absentee voting, absentee ballot applications, and absentee ballots before each election in a timely manner; 3. Provide frequent opportunities for eligible voters to register to vote and to vote; and 4. Provide for the timely return of voter registration applications, absentee ballot applications, and absentee ballots completed by eligible voters.
The bill would also ensure an ombudsman position is created to work with those eligible voters in the facilities across the state are being given access to these provisions, require drop boxes to be placed outside of the state's correctional facilities for ballot mailing and requires that the SBE submit a report to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee that includes the following information:
1. the number of eligible voters who registered to vote, attempted to vote, and voted successfully by absentee ballot during the immediately preceding calendar year;
2. the number of times SBE or a local board of elections visited each correctional facility during the immediately preceding calendar year, the duration of each visit, and a description of the work done at each correctional facility;
3. a description of any obstacles to implementing the provisions of the bill; and
4. any recommendations for improving the implementation of the bill.