Democratic Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed three criminal justice bills on Wednesday in Chicago, including a measure that requires a polling place in Cook County jails, according to The Center Square.
The measure, Senate Bill 2090, forces county jails to facilitate voting opportunities for eligible inmates.
“We’re making sure that 20,000 people detained pretrial each year don’t miss out on the opportunity to have their voices heard,” he said.
Under Illinois law, inmates who are detained before their trial retain their right to vote, and Pritzker defended his support of the bill by implying that they may not vote otherwise.
While the law mostly centers around vote-by-mail programs, it will go even further in the largest county jail system of the state.
Cook County Jail in Chicago will be receiving a temporary in-person polling place.
“We’re going to be putting a polling place in the Cook County Jail for detainees who are eligible to vote and a vote-by-mail program in every county across the state of Illinois, that’s 102 counties,” Pritzker said.
According to Chicago election authorities, the new polling place would operate like an early voting place.
“The board began offering a form of in-person voting in the early 1970s at the jail, and then, per the sheriff, switched to a vote-by-mail operation, and then, more recently a vote-by-mail operation with the option to submit the return ballot envelopes in person to a board staff member or country clerk staff member,” Jim Allen, a spokesman for the Chicago Board of Elections, told Chicago Business.
“We believe this will require continued planning, but we don’t anticipate any difficulties.”
Effective immediately, the law will enforce a limit of one non-partisan poll watcher per division within the jail as well as compliance with all other election regulations.
Republican state Rep. Tim Butler came out against the measure, noting that these detainees already have the right to vote and have ample opportunity to do so without help from the government.
“We make it very easy for people to vote in Illinois and at the end of the day it is the citizen’s responsibility to make sure that they vote,” he said. “It’s not the government’s responsibility to make sure that they vote, it is the citizen’s responsibility to make sure that they vote.”
Butler went on to warn that the inmates could see the temporary polling place as an offer, akin to pandering.
The Republican added that he couldn’t recall a time when an eligible detainee was denied his right to vote, pointing out how other, smaller counties know they must give mail-in ballots to those who request them.
Pritzker also signed two other bills into law on the same occasion.
One of them provides those leaving prison with a non-partisan civics program.
“This program will consist of three 90-minutes sessions of the voting process, government and current affairs that are taught by incarcerated citizens who are specially trained by established non-partisan civic organizations,” the governor’s office said, according to The Center Square.
The other simply reduces sentences for inmates that complete certain educational requirements. Those who complete substance abuse treatment programs will see 90 days shaved off their sentences, while those who obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree will be released 180 days early.
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