Proposed Illinois Voting Rights Legislation on Hold, Would Allow Prisoners to Vote

Bradley Martin
By Bradley Martin
December 2, 2022USshare
Proposed Illinois Voting Rights Legislation on Hold, Would Allow Prisoners to Vote
The Cook County Department of Corrections (CCDOC), housing one of the nation's largest jails, in Chicago on April 9, 2020. (Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images)

A new measure advanced by some Illinois legislators hopes to give voting rights to incarcerated individuals.

Sponsored by state Sen. Mike Simmons, a Democrat, Senate Bill 828 would overturn the current law, which states that anyone serving a sentence in a federal or state prison, county jail, or on work release is disqualified from voting.

But the bill did not pass through the Illinois General Assembly veto session, so lawmakers will have to wait until January for another chance at the legislation.

A veto session is a session held after adjournment of a Regular Session, when the General Assembly reconvenes to consider the governor’s vetoes.

Stand Up America, a progressive advocacy group, came out strongly in support of the measure, and the group’s deputy political director Reggie Thedford expressed his disappointment that the measure is on hold.

“It’s disappointing that Illinois lawmakers haven’t seized the opportunity to become national leaders by restoring the voting rights of all incarcerated Illinoisans during the veto session,” Thedford said in a statement on the organization’s website. “Everyone should have the freedom to vote—no matter where they lay their head at night.”

State Rep. LaShawn Ford, also a Democrat, came out in support of the proposed legislation.

“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 to The Center Square.

If the legislation passes, Illinois will join those states (along with Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.) as places that allow incarcerated citizens to vote.

According to Stand Up America, in Illinois there are nearly 30,000 people incarcerated in state prisons who are unable to vote. Of those incarcerated, 55 percent are black and 43 percent are between the ages of 18 and 35. The group has criticized this situation as “a Jim Crow relic that belongs in the past.”

However, this legislation has also been met with criticism from Illinois Republicans.

“A voter block such as this raises some questions about the unintended consequences of this piece of legislation,” Republican state Rep. Adam Niemerg said, according to Just the News. “Perhaps, they are the intended consequences of this being a Democratic voter drive, so to speak.” I couldn’t find this quote

Niemerg has also called for a repeal of the SAFE-T Act, a controversial criminal justice law that would make Illinois the first state in the nation to abolish cash bail as the standard for pretrial detention.

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