Tuesday, September 28th: Chicago Votes Asks Governor Pritzker to Support Voting in Prison this National Voter Registration Day

For National Voter Registration Day, Chicago Votes sends a letter to Governor Pritzker, urging him to support Senate Bill 828, Voting in Prison. 

For Immediate Release

September 28, 2021

Press Contact

Katrina Phidd, 612-710-1962, katrina@chicagovotes.com

Chicago — This National Voter Registration Day, Chicago Votes, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization is sending a letter to Governor Pritzker, asking for support in restoring voting rights to people in prison with Senate Bill 828 (SB828). Chicago Votes is building off the success of 2019’s Senate Bill 2090, Voting in Jail, and House Bill 254, Civics in Prison, with SB828 which would end felony disenfranchisement in Illinois and restore voting rights to the roughly 28,000 people in Illinois prison. 

The letter reads:

To Governor Prizker, 

National Voter Registration Day was first observed in 2012 with the aim of providing voter registration and education to voters in every state, reaching people wherever they are. We are proud that Illinois has been a national leader in expanding voter access through the passage of same-day voter registration, online voter registration, and most recently by ensuring voters in pretrial detention have access to the ballot. When Cook County Jail became an official polling place last year, the effects were felt immediately. During the 2020 primary election, 33 percent of people detained in the jail voted, rising to 40 percent in the general. Yet, there are roughly 28,000 Illinois citizens who remain disenfranchised by our laws, unable to use their civic voices while serving a sentence in prison. On this National Voter Registration Day, the most impactful action you can take is to support Senate Bill 828, restoring voting rights to people in Illinois prisons. 

The disenfranchisement of people in prison is rooted in archaic law. During the Jim Crow era, felony disenfranchisement laws served an explicitly racist function by suppressing Black votes. These laws have the same effect today. Even though only 14% of Illinoisians are Black, our prison population is over 50% Black. The disenfranchisement of people in prison tells incarcerated women, 80% of them mothers, that they are helpless to influence policies that directly impact their lives and their families’ lives. It tells the veterans in prison that although they served to protect our democracy, they can no longer participate in it. Taking away these citizens’ right to vote has produced no noticeable deterrent on crime. In fact, restoring the voting rights of people in prison will potentially strengthen public safety, by connecting them to civic life and strengthening ties to the communities where they’ll return.

The Illinois Constitution is clear on this point: “[a] person convicted of a felony, or otherwise under sentence in a correctional institution or jail, shall lose the right to vote, which right shall be restored not later than upon completion of his sentence.” In other words, the Illinois Constitution permits restoration of voting rights before a convicted individual completes his or her sentence.The transcript of the 1970 Constitutional Convention confirms this reading; the delegates discussed substituting the word “upon” for “not later than,” which would have kept incarcerated citizens disenfranchised throughout their sentence. Instead, the delegates opted to keep the language as is, giving lawmakers the power to restore voting rights at any point before an incarcerated citizen’s release. Senate Bill 828 requires voting rights be restored to individuals no later than fourteen days post-conviction, in line with our Constitution.

Your office has worked successfully alongside legislators to address unjust and racist disenfranchisement laws, most notably by ensuring all eligible voters in jail have access to the ballot. Illinois lawmakers and advocates have also worked to end prison gerrymandering, ensuring communities where prisons are located do not have inflated representation due to incarcerated bodies. Now we have the opportunity to join Maine, Vermont, and Washington D.C. as states and districts that allow people in prison to vote. Senate Bill 828 will not only propel Illinois toward national leadership on voter access, but it will benefit communities across Illinois by increasing reintegration and reducing recidivism.

We urge you, Governor Pritzker, to cement your legacy as an anti-racist leader and support Senate Bill 828, ending the last vestages of felony disenfranchiment in Illinois. 


Chicago Votes Action Fund