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How To Register Voters In A South Carolina Jail

SUMTER, SOUTH CAROLINA — It’s a Thursday afternoon in central South Carolina and inmates at the Sumter Lee Regional Detention Center are lying on their beds or sitting around cafeteria-style tables watching TV, abiding by the jail’s mandated quiet time.

Then Brenda Williams walks in.

One inmate flips off the television. Other men in blue jumpsuits, who had been confined to their bunks along the perimeter, quickly come join the few dozen already at the tables. The guards, positioned behind a desk at the entrance of the pod, turn their attention to these new visitors. Brenda starts singing.

I’m on the battlefield for my Lord and I promise him I will serve him ‘til I die,” she belts out from the middle of the gym-like room, bending her knees in passion. Her voice echoes around the metal bunk beds on the second floor balcony.

Williams is less than five feet tall, but her presence in the jail’s cramped, sterile pod feels far greater.

She is there today to follow up on absentee ballot applications for a handful of inmates, who she recently learned are allowed to vote behind bars because they’re serving time for civil convictions. Since retiring from medicine and shutting down her family practice in 2014, Williams has dedicated her life to registering Sumter residents to vote — including those behind bars.

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