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Published on the Independent Tribune

The voting precinct could have been any one of hundreds throughout Chicago, except that these voters in the first round of the mayoral election were all wearing the same beige smocks. And the security at this polling place wasn’t intended to keep disrupters and campaigners out, but the voters in.

When first-time voter Tykarri Skillon finished studying the list of nine candidates, looking for those who shared his priorities on jobs and affordable housing, he marked his ballot and then was escorted with other voters back to their cells in the Cook County Jail. “It feels good to have a voice,” he said after casting his ballot during early voting.

The 25-year-old, awaiting trial on a weapons charge, is part of a group not always mentioned in discussions about voting disenfranchisement. People serving sentences for felony convictions lose their right to vote. Detainees awaiting trial or serving misdemeanor sentences do retain that right, but face barriers to exercising it in many parts of the United States.

The Cook County Jail, with more than 5,500 inmates and detainees, is one of several lockups where voting rights advocates worked with local election and jail officials to offer voting for those held there. The list includes jails in Denver; Harris County, Texas; Los Angeles County; and the District of Columbia.