Photo by Damir Spanic Many Arizona inmates may be eligible to vote.
Photo by Damir Spanic

Can inmates in Arizona vote or not? That’s exactly what voting advocacy organization Arizona Coalition to End Jail-Based Disenfranchisement is working to clear up. 

According to the Arizona Coalition’s website, “Each night, the 15 counties across the state of Arizona detain more than 14,000 individuals in their 22 jails.” In fact, Arizona has the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the country — and over half of them are reportedly eligible to vote.

The Arizona Coalition was informally created in 2018 to make sure incarcerated voters received their ballots. Since then, the organization has grown to advocate for systemic and meaningful jail-based voting policy reform across Arizona. 

Among the members of this coalition are public defenders, criminal justice reform organizations, abolitionist organizations, voting rights advocates, and community organizing hubs

The Arizona Coalition makes the case that almost 60% of those incarcerated individuals are eligible to vote. The Arizona Coalition points out that “the system incarcerates Black, Hispanic, and Native people at significantly disproportionate rates,” which is why voter disenfranchisement hurts low-income people and people of color the most.

Quote from a Coalition member
Quote courtesy of the Arizona Coalition to End Jail-Based Disenfranchisement

According to TIME, a 66-year-old detainee named Christian Nasse at the Apache County Jail in St. John’s, Arizona received a postcard in late July from the Arizona Coalition. 

A couple of days later detainees were asked by corrections officers to return the postcards, per their commander’s orders. The postcard reportedly read: “Being in jail does not affect your right to vote” along with information on how to request a ballot to vote.

Apache County Jail Commander Michael Cirivello told TIME postcards are not allowed in the jail’s housing units “due to the inability to ensure that the cards do not contain contraband without destroying the postcard.” 

The Arizona Coalition said they were never made aware of this rule, nor did they see any reference to this “no postcards” rule for detainees receiving mail.

There are roughly 750,000 people in jail in the U.S. TIME reports most of are eligible to vote because, as they await trial, they remain innocent in the eyes of the law. Nevertheless, most jails lack clear voting policies and also don’t provide voter eligibility information to inmates or jail employees. 

After learning the postcards containing voting information sent to detainees had been confiscated, the Arizona Coalition sent a letter to the Apache County Sheriff and Apache County Jail Commander, asking them to address the reports of alleged disenfranchisement of eligible voters. The letter from TIME reads, in part: “We have received reports indicating not only that Apache County is failing to take the steps necessary to ensure jailed voters can access the ballot, but also that jail staff have actively impeded outside efforts to assist voters held in Apache County Jail.”

As stated on the Arizona Coalition’s website, they have made some progress by successfully advocating for the inclusion of jail-based voting procedures in the 2019 Election Procedures Manual, and by working with county officials to develop best practices. 

To request a ballot for yourself or a loved one in jail, people can call their hotline at (480) 640-3731 or submit a help form here.