SALT LAKE COUNTY (News4Utah) – Hundreds of inmates are now registered to vote, thanks to efforts by Black Lives Matter Utah.
Under Utah law, pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted are allowed to register to vote while in jail. Sgt. Kevin Hunter with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office said inmates serving time on misdemeanors on charges unrelated to voter fraud are also allowed to register.
“If an inmate serving time for a misdemeanor is still in jail on Election Day, people living at the physical address on their voter registration can bring that ballot to the jail. It would have to clear through our protocols to have it delivered to them. Then they could fill out their ballot and mail it from here,” said Sgt. Hunter.
Sgt. Hunter said organizers with Black Lives Matter Utah approached jail officials weeks ago for permission to enter their facilities and register inmates to vote, the first time that a group has done so in recent memory.
“Once we did the research, not only with our policies but also with voter laws that are out there, we could not see any reason why we would not let any group come in to do this voter registration,” said Sgt. Hunter.
“We decided to continue registering inmates because some of them will be out by election day and some of them will not be convicted,” said Lex Scott, organizer of Black Lives Matter Utah.
So far, the group has registered inmates at the Salt Lake County Metro and Oxbow Jails. Scott said she believes election results could be swayed if her group was able to register inmates at every jail in Utah.
“Inmates are actually very informed. They get to watch the news, they get the newspaper. They know what’s on that ballot and they know what the candidates stand for and what the parties stand for,” said Scott.
However, her group was instructed not to discuss any politics while registering inmates inside of the jail. Sgt. Hunter said jail officials were present to closely monitor their interaction.
“We can’t bring a group in and allow the group to discuss with the prisoners and tell them who they should vote and how they should vote,” said Sgt. Hunter.
“Our goal is to be invited back so we didn’t want to be partisan and/or seem partisan or wear anything partisan,” said Scott.
Annie Hall is a member of Black Lives Matter Utah and participated in the group’s inmate voter registration efforts. She said there are some felonious offenses that don’t warrant losing your voting rights.
“When people hear the word, ‘felon,’ they think of murderers, which there definitely are,” said Hall. “But if someone is in possession of marijuana and is charged with trying to sell it, they become a felon and can’t vote. I don’t think they should lose their ability to vote over that.”
Hall said she noticed a large number of minorities in jail when she was there and many, who didn’t know they could vote.
Sgt. Hunter said jail officers saw a sense of empowerment for inmates after they registered to vote.
“One of the things we hear from the public is they want us to be able to provide these prisoners with a way that they can come out onto the streets and produce or become part of the communities they live in. Part of that important step is to be able to vote as well,” said Sgt. Hunter. “Our concern is how we can provide an opportunity for these people to feel like normal human beings even when they’re incarcerated.”