By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
More than 100 individuals in the Jefferson County Jail in Bessemer registered to vote on Wednesday.
Those eligible to vote in the Nov. 3 general election were registered while others were provided absentee ballot applications. A representative with the Jefferson County Absentee Election Manager’s Office was on hand to process the information.
“We’re doing our best to go into all of the jails here in the state of Alabama,” said Sheila Tyson, Convenor of the Alabama Black Women’s Roundtable and Jefferson County Commissioner. “The ones who are already registered, we will provide them with an absentee ballot and they . . . will cast their vote today.”
Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettway was present along with representatives from The Ordinary People’s Society, Greater Birmingham Ministries and the Prodigal Child Project in Bessemer.
“This is a very important election and we want them to feel like regular citizens, especially when they get out,” said Pettway, of those incarcerated. “We want them to register and to vote in this next-coming election and we’re here to assist in the process. As a leader, it is not my job to suppress, but it is my job to assist to make sure everybody gets a chance to vote.”
Rodreshia Russaw, executive director of The Ordinary People’s Society, said the goal is have a good turnout in four weeks and the absentee ballots in by the 29th to make sure that they are counted.
“One of the visions that we stand on is for those who have committed a crime not involving moral turpitude be able to vote inside a prison or jail,” she said.
Many of those incarcerated have committed low-level crimes – like marijuana possession — but they still have the right to vote, she said. “As they are waiting on their convictions, we want to make sure that they are exercising their right to vote.”
So far, the response has been positive, Tyson said.
“They [incarcerated] are very excited and appreciative for us to take the time and come get them to vote,” she said. “A lot of them are registered but have given up on voting . . . When we come in, they’re smiling and asking how they can get involved once they are released and help other incarcerated persons get registered and get their voting rights back.”