Models for Voter Registration

The Ohio Secretary of State has issued specific guidelines for registering voters who are detained in jail on Election Day and desire to vote via absentee ballot. However, these guidelines do not provide specific steps for volunteer groups to follow when assisting BOE officials in registering jailed voters. To get you started we have included sample models taken from the ACLU’s national toolkit on jail voter registration.

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Targeting Jails for Voter Registration

Jails across the state of Ohio vary in size, capacity, and capability. Many jails are extended stay but several only house individuals for short periods of time, anywhere from six hours to twelve days.
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    Registering voters in these facilities may not be ideal or useful for your resources. All activists seeking to do jail voter registration are advised to focus their efforts on one of the full-service facilities in Ohio. Targeting these facilities will make it easier to speak with detainees and be more cost-effective and feasible for the jail administrators.

    In all jails, volunteers will need to determine if individuals will be released in time to vote in the next election. If a detainee will be transferred to another facility to await trial or if they are awaiting sentencing for a felony crime, will also impact how volunteers complete absentee ballot request forms.

    Smaller and short-stay facilities have populations which are too transient to make it worthwhile for volunteers to register detainees, also given the small number of individuals housed at these facilities, the registration effort may not result in many newly registered voters.

Voter Registration Models

Election Agency Registration, Advocate Monitoring

Your county BOE enters the jail to conduct voter registration and the volunteer group can ask the jail for permission to monitor the process. Monitoring the process will ensure detained people have access to the information and the materials they need. The county BOE can bring the registration and absentee ballot forms in the same visit(s) to alleviate excessive visits to the jail or risk duplicating efforts.

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  • Pros:
  • When the county BOE conducts the registration process, they will form a close partnership with jail administrators and facilitate easier organization of future voter registration drives and absentee voting initiatives.
  • The volunteer group monitoring the registration process can save valuable time and resources for other advocacy efforts.
  • The volunteer group can use their resources to facilitate future collaborations between the county BOE and jail administrators in the event leadership changes at either institution.
  • Cons:
  • There are no cons to this model if monitoring is permitted and the jail administrator grants full access to the volunteer group.
  • If volunteers are ill-prepared for jail voting or do not adhere to the jail’s safety standards and policies, they may not be granted future access.


Advocate Registration, Assistance from the County Board and Sheriff’s Office

Your volunteer group or agency works with the county board and sheriff/jail administrator to conduct voter registration in the jail. Your coalition representatives will conduct the registration drive with support from the county BOE and representatives from the sheriff’s office. Materials that you use to complete this process must adhere to the jail’s security policies.

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  • Pros:
  • You have direct contact with detained people to answer their questions and make sure they have the requisite information and materials.
  • You can also assist with completing the forms if the detainees have questions or need more detailed information. Lastly, you have the opportunity to provide additional voting materials such as the ACLU of Ohio’s Voter Empowerment cards that delineates specific steps to register, cast, and track a ballot.
  • Establishing a connection with the county board, sheriff’s office and the jail lends more credibility to the voter registration initiative.
  • o Collaborating with all entities ensures the voter registration drive can continue in future years and expands voter education in jail.
  • Cons:
  • More resources are poured into educating volunteers about Ohio’s voting laws and updates to Ohio’s voting rules if the Secretary of State issues new directives and guidelines before an election.
  • Consistent coordination between the coalition, volunteers, the county board and jail administrators. Inconsistency in communication can break down the registration initiative and lead to distrust in the coalition.


Advocate Registration, County Board Assistance

You and your volunteers conduct the voter registration drive in the jail, and staff from the county board are present to offer assistance if issues arise.

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  • Pros:
  • You are able to have direct contact with individuals in the jail to answer their questions and make sure they have the information and materials they need. Board officials can answer more complex questions or assist voters.
  • The presence of a board official lends the registration drive more credibility and detained individuals perceive the volunteers and county BOE care about their participation in the election.
  • Cons:
  • Smaller county BOEs may not have the resources to assist with a jail voter registration initiative or have more serious time constraints creating barriers to their participation.
  • If county boards choose not to be involved, the registration initiative may not become institutionalized or may languish after one year.
  • o County boards may choose not to participate in registration drives until closer to an election or only in years with high voter turnout.


Advocate Registration

You and your volunteers complete the voter registration drive without direct participation from the county board.

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  • Pros:
  • You have direct access to detained people and complete their registration and answer their questions.
  • Cons:
  • You are expending resources completing the registration yourselves.
  • You may not have credibility with jail officials or are contingent on the jail administrator’s good will to allow you to conduct the voter registration drive
  • Institutionalizing your efforts are less likely, particularly if the jail’s administration changes or their priorities shift from voter education.


Jail Official / Detainee Registration

Neither you nor the county are permitted to register voters and the jail officials conduct their own registration. Some jails will have their own procedures for detainees requesting to register and vote by mail.

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    In this scenario, you can ask the jail administrator to distribute literature to the detainees encouraging them to vote or convince the jail officials to have guards and/or detainee councils to do the registration. You will have to ask the jail what materials are permitted in the registration packets.

  • Pros:
  • By corrections officers or jail officials educating detainees about their voting rights, detainees will receive some information about the voter registration process.
  • Cons:
  • The jail will expend additional resources registering detainees because corrections officers will have to be paid overtime to complete all of the registration and absentee ballot forms.
  • Detainees may be distrustful of providing their personal information to corrections officers.
  • Jail administrators may only undertake this initiative if they perceive detainees are of a certain political persuasion.
  • Detainees may feel disempowered if neither your coalition nor the county board is present to register them. Many individuals may be more concerned with a perceived lack of justice in the criminal justice system and may be too overwhelmed to be concerned about voting.
  • You cannot be sure every eligible person is informed of their right to register and vote, or that the process will be carried out in a fair and nonpartisan way.


Voting on Election Day

The Jail is a Designated Polling Place

Designating a jail as a polling place can make it easier for voters who are jailed immediately before an election or for individuals who have been incarcerated for several weeks and will be unable to vote at their designated polling location.

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  • Pros:
  • This model will provide all eligible voters equal access to the ballot irrespective of their incarceration.
  • The county board takes responsibility for managing the jail as a polling precinct and is more likely to get detained individuals to vote on Election Day. Problems with voters’ registrations can be immediately resolved by an election official manager or detained individuals can receive help reading and understanding the ballot.
  • Once the county board designates the jail as an official polling place, detainees who may be incarcerated during a future election can easily cast their ballot.
  • Cons:
  • You cannot be sure that the process is being conducted fairly if the board takes responsibility for managing the jail’s voting process.


In-Person Absentee Voting

Your county board will send two county board employees, both of whom represent two of the major political parties, to deliver, administer, and collect the ballots. Only the board employees are permitted to deliver and collect the ballots in the jail and must also attest to this on the ballot envelope. Because existing state guidelines establish how absentee ballots are administered in jails, your coalition or volunteers can work with the county board to organize several opportunities during the early voting period to administer ballots.

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    For example, you can work with the county board to conduct absentee balloting ten days before an election and again on Election Day. Two dates, one during early voting and again on Election Day, will ensure voters who have had an extended stay in the jail or were arrested and confined a few days preceding the election can vote.

  • Pros:
  • County boards are already required to deliver and administer ballots in the jails, as outlined in the Secretary of State’s directives and election officials’ training handbook (See Ohio Election Manual: Absentee Voting Directive 2017-02, p. 5-9). However, county boards can designate which days they administer ballots in the jails. By urging your county to coordinate with jail officials and maximize the number of individuals receiving an absentee ballot, this will ensure more registered voters can cast their ballot in jail.
  • Detainees are more confident their ballot will be counted in the Election if board employees deliver the ballot in person.
  • Setting dates for in-jail absentee voting will maximize the county board’s time and resources.
  • State law offers groups a legal framework for urging county boards to register detainees.
  • Jail leadership cannot oppose absentee balloting from the county board because state law establishes protocols for the county to collect eligible voters’ ballots from the jail.
  • Cons:
  • None, provided the county board is willing to partner with you and schedule times for absentee balloting in its county jail(s).


Mail-In Absentee Voting #1

You and/or board employees are present when the absentee ballots arrive at the jail, assist the jail officials with distributing the vote-by-mail ballots and ensure detained individuals have the information and materials they need to complete their ballot, including the stamps and the envelopes to mail the ballots.

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    When conducting absentee voting, ensure that volunteers communicate this option can be exercised by voting by mail or going early in-person to a voter’s county BOE. Vote by mail (VBM) is easier for volunteers to use and communicate with detainees.

  • Pros:
  • You are able to have direct contact with detainees to answer their questions and make sure they have the information and materials they need, and you have officials on hand should problems arise.
  • It lends credibility to your effort if your county board is also there and is involved in a direct and visible way.
  • Cons:
  • Many detained people do not trust the jail’s mailing system.


Mail-In Absentee Voting #2

Neither you nor elections officials are allowed in, but you are able to do training with jail officials so they can distribute the ballots when they arrive and help people complete them.

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  • Pros:
  • Detained people will at least have some access to the voter registration process.
  • Cons:
  • You cannot be sure that the process is being carried out in a fair and impartial way.
  • Detainees may not participate if they do not have access through you or your local election officials to the information and materials they need.
  • Many detained people do not trust the jail’s mailing system.


DISCLAIMER – The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, an exhaustive overview of Ohio’s voting laws. Before beginning any jail voting initiative please review the Ohio Revised Code or the Ohio Secretary of State’s website at If you have been disenfranchised and you need legal help, please submit a compliant for review on our Legal Help page.

Back to Voting in Jail: An Organizer’s Toolkit.

Voting In Jail