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Election day trivia: can people in jail vote?

Here’s a chance to increase your voting rights knowledge, as we all try to whittle down these hours before finding out who won and lost in today’s general election.

Nearly everyone over the age of 18 can vote in North Carolina, including those who are jailed and awaiting trials on charges of various crimes.

“Being accused doesn’t affect your right to vote one way or the other,” said Eddie Caldwell, the director of the N.C. Sheriffs’ Association.

Casting a ballot, however, would have taken some forethought on the part of the inmate, with voting done through absentee ballots.

Only those who are convicted of felonies and currently serving out a prison or probation sentences are prevented from voting. That leaves those who are serving out misdemeanors, people who finished serving felony sentences, and those in jail awaiting trials able to exercise their rights to vote.

But, you can’t exactly walk to your regular polling place if you’re locked up in jail on Election Day.

Jailed inmates have to vote by absentee ballot, and that means interested inmates needed to have made a request to their county elections board before last Tuesday for absentee ballots, said Isela Gutierrez of Democracy NC, the good government and voting rights non-profit.

Caldwell, the sheriff’s association director, didn’t know how the state’s 100 sheriffs handle requests to vote, nor how much of the jail population typically votes in an election.

In Wake and Durham counties, Democracy NC and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice held voter registration drives in jails and helped 58 inmates in Wake and 93 in Durham request ballots for this year’s election or register to vote, Gutierrez said.

Durham jail officials allowed the groups to directly help inmates request ballots, but jailers in Wake County handed out information about voting rights themselves there because of jail staff said they didn’t have enough staff to allow for more interaction with inmates, she said.

Losing out on their right to vote today will be inmates arrested since the Oct. 30 deadline and anyone who might have woken up in a jail cell this morning wanting to vote without taking steps beforehand.

“It’s definitely too late if you’re there right now and you haven’t made any other arrangements,” Gutierrez said.

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