Inmates in Cook County Jail participated in the county’s first jail-wide, in-person voting session on Saturday.
Volunteers from the organization Chicago Votes registered inmates in the jail, where 94 percent of them were eligible to cast a ballot, according to WLS-TV. It was part of the city’s early voting push. Voters in Chicago were allowed to start casting ballots on March 5 for the statewide primary elections, which are scheduled for March 20.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson supported inclusion of inmates and led by example when he also voted on Saturday.
“There is no excuse not to vote in this important election. If you want change, use the power of your vote to make it a reality,” Jackson said in a statement. “We no longer have a Bull Connor or George Wallace standing in the door of opportunity or threatening bodily harm. There is no excuse not to vote.”
Unlike those who are incarcerated in jails, inmates who are serving long felony sentences in prison have few voting rights. Maine and Vermont are the only two states where felons never lose their right to vote while they are incarcerated, according the National Conference of State Legislatures. Illinois is among the 14 states, plus the District of Columbia , where felons lose their voting rights only while incarcerated and receive automatic restoration upon release.
The national movement to restore voting rights to felons gained a huge boost in February when a federal judge ruled that Florida violates former inmates’ constitutional rights by making it difficult for them to vote after release from prison. That decision affects more than 21 percent of Black Floridians.