Leon Elections Supervisor Mark Earley: "I think all voices in our community should be heard..."
While the nation turns its eyes to Florida in advance of its presidential preference primary, the Leon County Supervisor of Elections went to jail Monday to sign up potential voters behind bars.
Voters who want to participate in the March 17 Democratic primary have until Tuesday, Feb. 18 to register.
Speaking to reporters while his staff prepared to enter the Leon County Detention Facility, Leon Elections Supervisor Mark Earley explained that his obligation is to register as many people as he can to participate in the election.
“That’s what we are here to do,” Earley said.
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A staff member and two volunteers carried red bags filled with voter registration applications into the jail.
Deputies set them up in two classrooms to help inmates register and to fill out the paperwork for a vote-by-mail ballot. During the course of three hours elections workers would collect 25 voter registration applications.
To be sure, the procedure had been in place long before Earley or Sheriff Walt McNeil took office. In fact, a staffer explained that assistance for inmate voting has been in place for at least 32 years. (That dates it to Sheriff Eddie Boone, in office 1981-96.)
Earley said his effort to register county jail inmates – those awaiting trial or serving time on misdemeanor charges – is not tied to the controversy surrounding Amendment 4, the initiative to restore voting rights to convicted felons.
A 1974 U.S. Supreme Court ruling recognized pretrial inmates have a fundamental right to vote.
Other county elections supervisors do voter outreach at their county jails, according to the Florida Supervisors of Elections.
Association president Tammy Jones, the Levy County elections supervisor, said anyone can register voters in county jails if they coordinate with the local sheriff.
As Earley put it, “I think all voices in our community should be heard (and) our Constitution guarantees the right" to vote for non-felon inmates.
"... They should be registered and given the opportunity to vote.”
Earley added that his office on Apalachee Parkway will be open until 8 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17 — the so-called "book closing" date — to help register anyone else who wants to vote in the primary.
Writer James Call can be contacted at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @CallTallahassee.
This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.