Andrew Dys

Charged, yet eligible to vote: York Co. inmates waiting for trial can participate in elections

The inmate commons area inside the York County Detention Center.
The inmate commons area inside the York County Detention Center. RockHill

It is unclear if inmates had a preference for Donald Trump in last Saturday’s Republican presidential primary, or if there is a rooting interest among the Democratic accused for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders this Saturday. But one thing is clear: The 330-plus inmates awaiting trial at the York County Detention Center could not watch the Super Bowl earlier this month, but they can vote.

Inmates awaiting trial who are registered and have not lost their voting rights from earlier convictions can vote absentee by mail, said Chris Whitmire, spokesman for the S.C. State Election Commission. Inmates who ask for absentee ballots can get them and as long as the ballot is turned in by the Friday deadline for Saturday’s Democratic primary, the inmate’s vote will be counted.

Inmate eligibility to vote in York County comes up during most elections, although elections officials “don’t see a lot of requests,” from inmates, said Wanda Hemphill, York County director of Voter Registration and Elections. If the inmate is charged but not convicted, that inmate, if eligible, has the right to vote, Hemphill said.

“They might not be able to watch the Super Bowl but they can vote,” Hemphill said.

Inmates can have a representative contact the elections office for absentee ballot information, Hemphill said, or the inmate can call the office.

Unlike York County’s jail that shows no local TV, inmates in Chester and Lancaster counties where about 250 inmates are locked up were allowed to watch Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in the Super Bowl. Yet in Lancaster, as far as deputies know, they have never been asked by an inmate in the county jail for an absentee ballot.

“As far as we can tell, no one has ever asked,” said Doug Barfield, spokesman for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.

The inmates at the York County Prison – which houses some criminal defendants already convicted but also dozens of people in jail for failure to pay child support and other civil penalties – has a mix of people able to vote or not.

Inmates convicted of felonies who are in prison can’t vote. But those child support deadbeats jailed under a civil order from Family Court still have voting rights.

“Those inmates here for civil offenses are not convicted of crimes and can vote,” said James Ramsey, York County Prison administrator.

Andrew Dys: 803-329-4065