Maryland group working to get detainees voting access
SALISBURY, Md. – One Maryland-based group is working to make sure individuals who are detained while awaiting trial still have access to vote. There is no law in Maryland that says a person who has not been convicted of a crime while awaiting trial cannot vote, but the issue is accessibility.
Often times those who are incarcerated ahead of trial don’t have the resources they need to be able to vote. To change that, it all comes down education and resources.
“Those folks who are detained are missing the access that the rest of us as citizens would have, and they’re missing that access in which they haven’t been convicted of a crime,” Mary Hylton, Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Salisbury University, said.
Being not convicted of a crime but still not able to vote is a situation that dozens of defendants face in Maryland while they’re detained and awaiting trial.
“When somebody is detained they often don’t have access to their polling place, and so they need alternative access, which is often times done through absentee ballots,” Hylton said.
But even accessing an absentee ballot can be nearly impossible for detainees.
“To access the absentee ballots, they need access to the internet, they need access to other ways to make the request to get an absentee ballot,” Hylton said.
Now, Life After Release, a Maryland based organization, is working hard to make sure every person awaiting trial in Maryland has the ability to vote.
“It’s not enough to say that these individuals can vote, what we now have to do is ensure that they have access to the ballot,” Qiana Johnson, Executive Director of Life After Release, said.
But getting access to the ballot means getting everybody on board, especially those who work with detainees and inmates on a daily basis.
“What we’re asking the state to do is to put up signs in the parole and probation offices letting individuals know that they can vote, and to also put stuff in their packets when they’re released,” Johnson said.
It also includes simply expanding resources within jails, including education about each detainee’s rights.
“Obviously we have to remove the barriers, so the best way to do that would be to ensure that there’s adequate information happening within jails for people who are pre-trial,” Hylton said.
Because when it comes to voting, it’s more than just a constitutional right.
“Voting actually provides people a sense of well-being, the research has found there’s increased rates of life satisfaction, increased rates of social belonging,” Hylton said.
Hylton says this issue disproportionately impacts people who don’t have the financial resources to pay bail.
Without being able to pay bail, they’re often held in jail ahead of their trial, meaning they don’t get the resources they need to vote.
Johnson says Life After Release is working alongside lawmakers to construct legislation that would give detainees access to vote.