Md. bill would provide access to ballots for eligible voters behind bars

Man in prison hands of behind hold Steel cage jail bars. offender criminal locked in jail.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/Rattankun Thongbun)
As the primary elections fast approach, a group in Maryland is working to get a bill passed that would help eligible voters behind bars cast their ballots.

Qiana Johnson, executive director of Suitland, Maryland-based Life After Release, was in jail during the last presidential election and said she could vote but did not have the access.

“I definitely would have engaged in that process and there are a lot of people who would engage in that process,” Johnson said.

Her non-profit is one of the organizations, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, that is working to improve access to ballots.

Currently in Maryland, people who are detained can vote if they have not yet been convicted of a crime. If they are incarcerated, they can vote from prison if they have a misdemeanor sentence.

“It helps with being able to think, ‘OK, they are including me in this. This is important. I am now included. I am going to take this seriously and I’m going to use it,'” Johnson said.

WTOP reached out to several legislators for comment. Lawmakers are considering a number of bills related to elections.

This is the bill’s third time being introduced. Previous versions would have required the Department of Corrections to facilitate ballots and provide education. This version would require the Maryland Board of Elections to provide access to voting for those behind bars.

There are around 6,400 people detained awaiting trial each month in Maryland, according to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

“Those individuals who are sitting behind bars are mothers. They are fathers. They are individuals who have a stake in the community around them,” Johnson said.

“A lot of them don’t know they have the option to vote so what this bill also does is that it brings awareness.”

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this story.

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Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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