Illinois lawmakers discuss legislation that could allow prisoners to vote

Bill would overturn current law that states anyone serving a sentence in a federal or state prison, county jail, or on work release is ineligible to vote.

Updated: November 30, 2022 - 11:27pm

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A measure some at the Illinois statehouse hope to advance would give voting rights to incarcerated individuals serving time in county jails or state or federal prisons.

Senate Bill 828 is sponsored by state Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, and, if passed, would overturn current law that states anyone serving a sentence in a federal or state prison, county jail, or on work release is ineligible to vote.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago, said he supports the measure.

"I am all for making sure that Illinois joins the other two states that allow for people who are in prison to have the right to vote as they do in Maine and Vermont," Ford said.

Around 27,300 incarcerated individuals in the state were ineligible to vote in the 2022 midterm elections, with 55% of those being Black.

State Rep. Adam Niemerg, R-Dieterich, claims the legislation was brought forward for the wrong reasons.

"A voter block such as this raises some questions about the unintended consequences of this piece of legislation," Niemerg said. "Perhaps, they are the intended consequences of this being a Democratic voter drive, so to speak."

Many prisoner reform groups have come out to support the measure, including Stand Up America, which released a statement urging lawmakers to pass the legislation this week.

"Illinois has the chance to make history this week. Voting is critical to our democracy and should be a right for all citizens – no matter where they lay their heads at night. That's why SB 828 should be at the top of the agenda in the last few days of the veto session," the statement reads. "It's past time Illinois lawmakers do right by all of their constituents and allow currently incarcerated citizens to vote."

If passed, Illinois would join Maine, Vermont, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico as places that allow incarcerated citizens to vote.

Illinois lawmakers wrap up veto session Thursday.