Pre-trial detainees only got the right to vote in the U.S. in 1974. Since then, people in jail who have not been convicted of anything have been allowed to cast absentee ballots through the mail. But this month was the first time that a jail hosted an actual polling place.
An Illinois state law that was enacted last summer requires that jails in counties with over 3 million people are required to facilitate polling places. So Cook County Jail, the only one that falls into that category, had actual voting machines set up for the primaries.
Part of the hope is that this situation may influence other states implement similar laws. But setting up a voting space for people in jail should also be a reminder that the majority of people are only there because they can’t afford bail. Otherwise they could be out and about until their court date. That’s 75% of the national jail population and is more towards 95% at Cook County Jail.