Lawmakers in Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Assembly heard a bill Tuesday that would expand already-existing voting rights to pretrial detainees in jails, marking the latest effort to make voting easier for pretrial detainees that is playing out in different forms nationwide.
The bill would make an electronic absentee ballot system available to pretrial detainees that is currently tailored toward military, disabled or overseas voters. It also streamlines a process for same-day voter registration for those eligible in county and city jails, which is already offered in some counties but would streamline it at the state level.
A sweeping amendment Tuesday pared down the bill’s focus away from establishing physical polling places in city and county jails and instead toward ensuring — and in some cases expanding — absentee ballot access for those already eligible.
"We are simply ensuring that eligible electors have the ability to vote in the same early, special, primary and general elections that they would have had the opportunity to vote in had they not been temporarily incarcerated," said bill sponsor Democratic Assemblywoman Brittney Miller, of Las Vegas.
The bill is the latest possible shift in a push to expand voting access to registered voters across U.S. jails. Much of those efforts have been at the local level, with voting and criminal justice rights advocates working with jail officials to offer voting in Denver, Los Angeles and the District of Columbia jails, along with the counties that hold Houston and Chicago.
Under the bill, county and city jails must also post an elections and voting handbook in a visible location that includes the qualifications for voting registration and procedures. It also requires county election and jail officials coordinate absentee ballots for those held in jails outside of their home county.
Counties generally coordinate absentee and mail ballots, though this would streamline many of those processes and guidelines across the state.
Nevada’s Democratic-controlled Legislature established what’s called a "universal mail ballot" system ahead of the pandemic-altered 2020 election, which requires the state to mail ballots to every registered voter unless they specifically request not to receive one. Nevada also has same-day voter registration.
Voting rights for pretrial detainees and inmates serving sentences for misdemeanors were upheld in a 1974 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Voting rights advocates have said barriers exist due to eligibility mistakes or the difficulties that detainees and prisoners face in registering or voting.