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October 17, 2019

Today, we sent letters to officials at local and regional jails across the Commonwealth to remind them of their duty to protect the voting rights of all those who are currently detained in Virginia jails while awaiting trial or serving a misdemeanor sentence.

"Under the U.S. Constitution, those held in jails are legally permitted vote unless they are otherwise ineligible due to age, citizenship status, or a prior felony conviction," stated the letter. "Preventing someone from exercising their voting rights is illegal and undermines the presumption of innocence that is integral to our criminal legal system. This is also important because national statistics show that people of color and low-income individuals are disproportionately represented in jail populations."

The letter called attention to the fact that Virginia law permits “[a]ny person who is confined while awaiting trial or for having been convicted of a misdemeanor” to request an absentee ballot if their trial or release date is scheduled within three days preceding the election. Additionally, Virginia law also requires that anyone who is in jail awaiting trial in the same city or county where they are a resident “be taken to the polls to vote on election day if his trial date is postponed and he did not have an opportunity to vote absentee.” This means that all registered voters detained in jail can request an absentee ballot and, under certain circumstances, must be taken by jail officials to a polling site on Election Day.

"Sheriffs and superintendents have a duty to ensure those currently detained in jails are allowed to vote," the letter continued. "Persons who are detained waiting trial or serving a misdemeanor sentence are two of the groups privileged to vote absentee under Virginia’s excused-based absentee voting law. Sheriffs and superintendents should honor the voting rights of jail residents by disseminating voting rights information, inviting registrars to facilitate registration of eligible voters in their facilities, asking eligible individuals whether they wish to apply for an absentee ballot, and taking other steps to protect the voting rights of all eligible Virginians in their custody."

You can read the full letter below.