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Voting behind bars: Inmates cast ballots in US election

Inmates at Cook County Jail vote in the US presidential election on October 17, 2020.
Inmates at Cook County Jail vote in the US presidential election on October 17, 2020. © REUTERS, FRANCE 24
2 min

Inmates at a Chicago jail have been casting their ballots this week in the US presidential election, a rare chance to vote in person in a country where millions of incarcerated people cannot vote at all.


Cook County Jail launched early voting for its pre-trial detainees over the weekend of October 17.

In previous elections, prisoners would have to send in absentee ballots. But a law change in the state of Illinois last year now allows the prison to act as a polling station.

"It's great," one inmate told Reuters after voting. "I'm able to voice my opinion and let everyone know that we're still humans and it still counts.

"We still have to deal with the same things that everybody else has to deal with when it comes to society and living and our rights."

Officials say they expect around 2,000 inmates to vote, a turnout of around 50 percent and a vast increase on the 400-500 absentee ballots that would normally be submitted from the jail.

More than five million Americans are disenfranchised because of laws restricting voting rights for convicted felons, according to figures from The Sentencing Project.

But advocacy groups say many of those who can vote, including those awaiting trial, do not do so due to a lack of knowledge of voting laws and bureaucratic obstacles to casting absentee ballots.

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