60+ Organizations Support Legislation to Protect Voting Rights of Eligible  Incarcerated Voters

An Act to Protect the Voting Rights of Eligible Incarcerated People filed by Representative Chynah Tyler, Representative Liz Miranda, and Senator Adam Hinds is lauded as the comprehensive solution to jail-based disenfranchisement.

BOSTON – The Democracy Behind Bars Coalition announced today that 60+ organizations statewide have backed legislation filed by Senator Adam Hinds (S. 474) and Representatives Chynah Tyler and Liz Miranda (H. 836) to end the de-facto disenfranchisement of eligible incarcerated voters. A bill summary is viewable here: bit.ly/jbvsummaryThe bill, An Act to Protect the Voting Rights of Eligible Incarcerated People, takes a comprehensive approach to jail-based disenfranchisement. Advocates in the coalition say it was drafted by those in the coalition on both sides of the wall, particularly with the leadership of members of the African American Coalition Committee in MCI Norfolk, and is long overdue.

Jail-based disenfranchisement, or de-facto disenfranchisement, is not new, advocates say. And it systematically strips hyper-incarcerated and hyper-policed communities – mostly Black communities and communities of color — of their political voice.

“For all of Massachusetts history, those serving misdemeanor convictions and imprisoned pre-trial have maintained the right to vote,” said Representative Chynah Tyler.  “But to this day, we have yet to create a system to allow those disproportionately Black citizens and people of color to actually exercise that right. This bill would fix that adding to one of many adjustments needed to ensure all facilities are protecting the constitutional rights of individuals who happen to be incarcerated.”

The bill, also known as the Jail-Based Voting Bill, would require sheriffs to provide all eligible voters absentee ballot applications, information on candidates, and other materials necessary to vote. It includes requirements on elections officials to ensure that they are aware of voter eligibility, and coordinating with sheriffs. Further, it would require that jails in counties with populations of 800,000 or more provide a municipal polling location in the county jail.

“There are myriad administrative reforms needed to ensure incarcerated eligible people can vote,” said Representative Liz Miranda, “which are included in the jail-based voting bill and are critical. We wrote this bill with an understanding that jail-based disenfranchisement is complicated, that running elections on the municipal level makes redressing it even harder, but with the belief that there is never any excuse for disenfranchising eligible voters — especially when we’re talking about people who government has failed.”

“Voting is the cornerstone of democracy and all eligible voters should have equal access to the ballot,” said Senator Adam Hinds. “The Jail-Based Voting bill will move Massachusetts a little closer to ensuring that principle also includes eligible voters who happen to be behind the wall. This is an issue of representation, of racial justice, and a fundamental democracy issue.”

“Access to voting will encourage lawmakers and elected officials to see us as human beings worthy of being seen,” said Derrick Washington, Founder of the Emancipation Initiative. “Access to voting will motivate public officials to regularly come into the prisons and solicit our votes. The chain reaction will bring about better conditions of confinement, adequate programming, dignity, as well eradicate the ever present racism from an entirely white administration controlling the prison policies of a majority black and brown prison population. Infused dignity created from incarcerated enfranchisement in Massachusetts prisons will spill over into the communities that many of us will be returning to.”

“Two easy and practical things Sheriffs can do is ensure that orientation manuals have updated information with respect to the voting rights of incarcerated people as well as post an easy to read step by step voting guide for eligible voters on all units,” said Al-Ameen Patterson, Vice Chair of the African American Coalition Committee (AACC).

“As People We Matter, We Are Not Any Less Human Then When We Were Sentenced Or Charged With A Crime (Especially Those That Can Be Corrected), And If We Have To Work Hard At Making A Change In Our Community & Society In Order To Live Amongst The People Then We Should Have The Right To Vote And Feel Like We Matter Too,” said Kimya Foust, National Council for Incarcerated & Formerly Incarcerated Women & Girls organizer.

“Eligible incarcerated voters are just that: eligible voters,” said Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, the Executive Director of MassVOTE. “This legislation takes simple, common-sense steps to ensure that eligible incarcerated voters – who are predominantly Black and Latino – may cast their ballot without intimidation or interference from prison officials. For far too long eligible incarcerated voters have faced de facto disenfranchisement that no other eligible voter in Massachusetts faces. It’s time to change that. We’re supporting this legislation to make that change possible.”

“From my earliest days as the Sheriff of Suffolk County, I have worked to ensure that those who are eligible to vote can register and cast their ballots from our facilities,” said Sheriff Steven W. Tompkins. “I have long been both a vocal advocate and ardent supporter of the right to vote for all of our citizens, whether they reside in our communities and neighborhoods, or temporarily in our care and custody. I’d also like to acknowledge Families For Justice As Healing and the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls for their powerful efforts in this cause.”

Supporters of the legislation include:
Act on Massachusetts
ADL New England
African American Coalition Committee (AACC)
Arise for Social Justice
Black and Pink Massachusetts
Black Boston COVID-19 Coalition (BBCC)
Black Director’s Network (BDN)
Black Economic Justice Institute (BEJI)
Brazilian Women’s Group
Bristol County for Correctional Justice
Campaign Legal Center
Cape Verdean Social Workers Association
Coalition for A Better Acre
Coalition for Effective Public Safety (CEPS)
Common Cause Massachusetts
Community Action Works Campaigns
Criminal Justice Policy Coalition
Decarcerate Western Mass
Democratic Policy Center
Edgartown Democratic Town Committee
Emancipation Initiative
Equal Citizens
Families for Justice as Healing
Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association (GTNA)
Greater Boston Legal Services CORI & Reentry Project
Healing Our Land Inc. Ministry
Indivisible Martha’s Vineyard
Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Lawyers for Civil Rights
Lift Every Vote
Mass NOW
Mass Political Cooperative
Massachusetts Peace Action
Massachusetts Voter Table
Neighbor to Neighbor MA
Northampton Abolition Now
Out Now
Prisoners’ Legal Services
Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts
Progressive Massachusetts
Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts
Reclaim Our Democracy
Somerville Democratic City Committee (SDCC)
The Criminal Justice Reform Task Force of Congregation Dorshei Tzedek
The Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School
The Congregation B’nai Israel Tikkun Olam Committee-Northampton
The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls – MA
The Prison Policy Initiative
The Real Cost of Prisons Project
The Sentencing Project
The Tikkun Olam Committee of the Jewish Community of Amherst
Union of Minority Neighborhoods
UU Mass Action
Welcome Project Inc
Winning Writers
Worcester Democratic Socialists of America
Worcester Interfaith
YWCA Southeastern MA


The Democracy Behind Bars Coalition (DBBC) is a coalition of advocacy and community organizations, direct service and religious groups, and individuals committed to ensuring that democracy does not stop at prisons and jails in Massachusetts. 

The coalition is led by the organizing committee, which includes:  The African American Coalition Committee (AACC), Emancipation Initiative, Families for Justice as Healing, The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls – MA, Healing Our Lands, Inc, the ACLU of Massachusetts, Prisoners Legal Services, The Real Cost of Prisons Project, Common Cause Massachusetts, MOCHA, MassVOTE, the Massachusetts Voter Table, The Sentencing Project, Neighbor2Neighbor, Decarcerate Western Massachusetts, Progressive Massachusetts and more.