With just over a month until the general election, Ohioans-including some who are currently incarcerated-can begin voting via absentee ballots.
A criminal conviction can come with a lot of collateral consequences-driver's license suspensions, ineligibility for public funds, and the loss of privacy protections afforded to other citizen. But most convicted criminals, including many currently incarcerated, are still eligible to vote.
Though few offenders at the Washington County Jail have historically exercised their right to vote, the jail typically begins informing inmates of their voting rights in mid-October, said Lt. Brad Thorpe, administrator at the Washinmgton County Jail.
"We announce it and we have the forms available where they can apply to the Board of Elections for an absentee ballot," said Thorpe.
According to Ohio law, only those currently imprisoned for a felony conviction are ineligible to vote. Those confined for misdemeanor offenses and those awaiting trial but not yet convicted of felony charges are eligible to vote.
The process for requesting and casting an absentee ballot at the jail mirrors the process for almost any absentee voter, said Tara Hupp, director of the Washington County Board of Elections.
There are only two circumstances where a person can temporarily or permanently lose his or her right to vote in Ohio due to a criminal conviction.
A person who is currently incarcerated for felony conviction, awaiting extradition on a felony conviction, or imprisoned for a felony probation, parole, or post release control violation can not vote.
A person who has two felony convictions for violations of Ohio's election laws is permanently banned from voting.
Those incarcerated for misdemeanors or awaiting trial on felony charges are eligible to vote and can do so via absentee ballot from their place of confinement.
Convicted felons who have served their time and re-registered are eligible to vote.
Source: Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
"They can request in writing that we send them an absentee ballot. We can mail it directly to their home address and an individual can take it to them or we can mail it to their place of confinement," said Hupp.
Requests for absentee ballots can be received no later than noon the Saturday before the election. The ballot itself must be postmarked by the day before the election and then has ten days to get to the Board of Elections, said Hupp.
Though not an option for incarcerated voters, most absentee voters also have the option to bring the ballot into the BOE office at its new location at 204 Davis Ave. Suite B up until 7:30 p.m. the day of the election.
The Board of Election gets a monthly list from the Washington County Clerk of Courts of those people who have been sentenced to incarceration for a felony.
"When we get those reports, we have a special way that we delete them from voting eligibility that shows they are imprisoned and not eligible for an absentee ballot," said Hupp.
Felony offenders are once again eligible to vote after they have served their sentence though they do need to re-register, said Hupp.
Though given the option, few people typically choose to vote from the jail.
Last year no one requested an absentee ballot, said Thorpe.
In the past, certain elections have drawn two or three individuals who chose to vote from the jail, recalled Lt. Marvin Smith, supervisor at the Washington County Jail.
"It varies from year to year. I know we've sent a few out in the mail," he said.
The Board of Elections does not keep a count of absentee ballots returned from the jail.
When an inmate does vote at the jail, he or she seals the vote. It is never seen my employees at the jail, said Smith.
"We just mail it out for them," he said.