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Civil Rights Groups Undertake Voter Education for People in Georgia Jails

Yesterday, the Southern Center for Human Rights and Dēmos mailed 1,000 nonpartisan, voter education packets containing know-your-rights documents and absentee ballot applications to people incarcerated in Gwinnett, Glynn, and Randolph County jails. This mailing precedes the March 20, 2020 deadline for requesting an absentee ballot to cast in the presidential primary election.

In 2019, Georgia amended state law to allow eligible, registered voters who are detained in jail to have absentee ballots mailed to the jail. State law had previously prohibited election officials from sending ballots to a jail.

Yesterday’s mailing is part of a larger effort undertaken by SCHR and Dēmos to provide information about these recent changes to Georgia law. Both organizations have been working with local grassroots groups—such as Southerners on New Ground and the NAACP—to disseminate educational materials. They also sent an earlier round of 1,000 voter education guides and absentee ballots to people in the Cobb, Richmond, and Sumter County jails, and plan to send at least 2,000 additional mailings later this year.

“Roughly 40,000 people are held in Georgia jails on any given day—many of whom are detained pretrial and eligible to vote,” said Sarah Geraghty, Managing Attorney at SCHR. “However, people in jails are often unaware that they remain eligible to vote or that there are means available for requesting and casting ballots from jail.”

 “Each individual vote and voice represent a critical contribution to our democracy,” said Chiraag Bains, Director of Legal Strategies at Dēmos. “The recent change in Georgia law and the fact that so many eligible, but incarcerated voters are unaware of their voting rights, fueled the effort to disseminate educational materials this year. We hope these materials help people to determine whether they have the right vote and, if so, to exercise that right in the coming election.”

The materials circulated to individuals incarcerated in jails include:

  • A know-your-rights document that provides information about who is qualified to vote in Georgia and how people in jail can exercise their voting rights;
  • An absentee ballot application; and
  • A hotline number that individuals may call free of charge if they encounter problems voting.

While jail staff may not erect barriers to people’s voting rights, some eligible voters have encountered problems in exercising their voting rights. The hotline allows eligible, jailed voters to report if they are unable to obtain an absentee ballot in a timely way through the jail’s mail system, lack the identification required for first-time voters in a federal election, or don’t have postage to send in their ballot. “We urge Georgia sheriffs to take steps to ensure that eligible voters in their custody are not blocked from exercising the right to vote,” said Sarah Geraghty.

A copy of the know-your-rights document is available here.

SCHR is a nonprofit civil rights law office that represents people in the criminal legal system in the South, and Dēmos is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that works on voting rights and democracy issues.