DALLAS COUNTY, Texas — After months of back-and-forth leading up to the Texas General Election about whether or not there should be a polling location placed at the Dallas County Jail, Sheriff Marian Brown had the final word.
"The conditions right now are challenging in terms of being able to accommodate new programs," Brown said. "Any time you insert a new program into our system, you have to account for that new program by inserting new people... new staffing.”
And said her department just doesn't have it.
"As has been made very public, we are short-staffed right now, so implementing a new program is not something that’s very practical for us right now," Brown said.
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, along with activists and some other county officials have pushed for more voting access for inmates leading up to Election Day.
“74% of people in our jail have not been convicted of the crime that they’re charged with, so if they’re not currently on papers for another conviction, they’re eligible to vote," Jenkins said.
Brown said there are registrars on staff, election dates and deadlines are presented on televisions and tablets at the jail and inmates are given the opportunity to register to vote, request a mail-in ballot and send in their ballots.
“We have a process already in place," Brown said. "It’s not new. It is one that works. It is one that’s logistically possible for what we do here.”
The deadline to return a mail-in ballot application is October 28, 11 days before Election Day.
"When 74% of the people in jail are not convicted yet of their crime, some of those people are going to be undoubtedly registered to vote, and if they’re in jail after that cut off for a mail-in ballot up until Election Day, they’re denied their right to vote," Jenkins said.
Last year, Harris County placed a polling location at its jail after a debate amongst officials.
Brown said there are about 6,000 inmates currently in the jail. She said, even if the county elections department provided staff, they would have to undergo training and background checks to be able to serve as poll workers with the inmates.
“We are essentially having to manage and operate a small city, and in doing so, there are some processes that require us to think ahead of time in terms of what we’re going to be able to do," Brown said.
Jenkins said county administrators proposed a plan that would allow for a polling location to be brought into the jail and taken from cell to cell after acknowledging to the difficulty in moving inmates from their cells to a polling location.
“We’d go pod to pod, ask people if they want to vote there. If they do, they can vote and they can move to the next pod," Jenkins said.
But Brown said that doesn't solve the staffing issue. She said, as things stand, she is not considering any new options for this election cycle.
"Another thing to keep in mind is this is a transitional facility," Brown said. "When they come here, they don’t often times come to stay. They come for the purpose of waiting out a process that takes place...be that process being bonded out or be that process waiting for their court hearing. We hope that nobody misses their opportunity to vote. Obviously, that’s an important thing.”
However, if an eligible, registered voter who hasn't voted early is jailed after October 28 and isn't released before Election Day, they won't be given an opportunity to vote. Even if they haven't been convicted of a crime.
WFAA has reached out to Tarrant, Collin and Denton Counties to ask about Election Day voting options for eligible inmates.
Like Dallas County, a Tarrant County spokesperson said there are resources provided to eligible inmates to make it easy to vote by mail but, like in Dallas County, there is not an Election Day polling option.
Collin and Denton Counties have not responded yet.
“We don’t know how they’ll vote, or whether they’ll choose to vote," Jenkins said. “We want a situation where every citizen who’s registered to vote, and wants to vote, is able to vote and their vote is counted for the candidate of their choice."