County leaders divided over adding polling location at Dallas County jail

There's no formal proposal yet, but some Dallas County leaders say they'd like to put a polling location at the Dallas County jail. 

Inmates eligible to vote can already do so by mail-in ballot.

County commissioners are divided on the issue, but the ultimate decision is with the sheriff. 

With the midterm election less than three months away, there's talk in Dallas County about adding a new polling location in the county jail. 

"People are innocent until proven guilty," said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins. "74% of the people in jail are in that category. Many of them are registered to vote."

Inmates awaiting trial or who are not convicted felons are eligible to vote. 

Currently, an inmate would vote by mail. But some activists are pushing to put an actual polling site in the jail.

Republican Dallas County Commissioner JJ Koch and Democrat County Judge Clay Jenkins disagree on this issue. 

"Those individuals that are in jail right now are the accused. They are not convicted of any offense. Absolutely, there should not be any impediment for them to vote," Koch said. "But I would absolutely disagree that they can't get their mail-in ballots."

The idea is an attempt to replicate what Harris County did last year.

The Harris County Election’s Office says in the November 2021 general election, 96 votes came from the jail. The poll was only open on Election Day. 

Because all polling locations must be open to the public, Harris County officials say members of the public voted in a secure area separate from "where detainees voted." The 96 votes included votes from eligible inmates, sheriff's office employees and members of the public. 

While some Dallas County leaders appear to be split, the decision is not up to them. 

"It's ultimately up to the elected sheriff who is in charge of the jail," Jenkins said.

In a statement, the Dallas County sheriff's spokesperson says they have "standard operation procedures in place to make sure people charged to our care can vote." But an outright answer was not given on whether the sheriff supports the proposal. 

On an average day this year, there’s been about 6,000 inmates in the jail. A majority of those are people awaiting trial. 

"But I support giving any resource we can to make that happen," Jenkins said. "So that if you find yourself in jail and want to cast a vote, you got the right to vote."

Koch says it would be a logistical nightmare. He adds that the jail staff is already understaffed and in his overworked. 

"I don’t want to add one more ounce of stress to those individuals’ day jobs. We need to make sure we are taking stress off," he said. "Putting a polling place in a secure area like that is adding more stress in an already stressful situation."

FOX 4 reached out to the head of Dallas County Elections but did not give a response. However, Jenkins said that he and the elections administrator would provide the support and resources if the sheriff wanted to add a polling location.