“They just ignored me. There was nothing I could do. I was just denied my right to vote. It was very deflating. There’s a culture inside of guards telling you that you don’t matter, and this — this was them proving it. And that’s the end of it, because less than two years later, I had been convicted and sentenced, and I have not had the right to vote since.”
-Joe Watson, Coalition member
Each night, the 15 counties across the state of Arizona detain more than 14,000 individuals in their 22 jails. An estimated 60%, or 8400, of those individuals are eligible to vote. Approximately 32.5% of registered voters in Arizona are Democrats, the only party eligible to vote in the March 17, 2020 Presidential Preference Election, meaning that roughly 2700 of these detained individuals were likely eligible to vote.
During the March election, out of those estimated 2,700 eligible voters, 7 voters cast a ballot.
That’s a 0.26% participation rate, 187 times less than the overall turnout rate for that election.
Arizona has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country, and the system incarcerates Black, Hispanic, and Native people at significantly disproportionate rates. In addition, Arizona employs a cash bail system, meaning that thousands of Arizonans are in jail simply because they cannot afford to post bail.
This is voter disenfranchisement, and it hurts low-income people and people of color the most.
The Arizona Coalition to End Jail-Based Disenfranchisement exists to change that.
The Coalition came together informally to bring an incarcerated voter his ballot in 2018, and it has grown in the last two years to advocate for systemic and meaningful jail-based voting policy reform across the state.
The Coalition is composed of directly impacted individuals, public defenders, criminal (in)justice reform organizations, abolitionist organizations, voting rights advocates, and community organizing hubs. Members include All Voting is Local – AZ, AZ Advocacy Foundation, AZ Center for Empowerment, Arizona Coalition for Change, American Friends Service Committee – AZ, Mass Liberation AZ, One AZ, Poder in Action, Campaign Legal Center, and various public defenders and local attorneys. Learn more about our partners here.
Our coalition has made some progress — successfully advocating for the inclusion of jail-based voting procedures in the 2019 Election Procedures Manual; and working with County officials to develop best practices. However, our goal of each incarcerated voter having full and uninhibited access to voter registration, voter education, and their ballot is still a ways off.