A 2019 law that restored voting rights to more than 11,000 people on parole in Colorado is driving new voter registration efforts ahead of the November election.
The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition and the Latino Coalition for Community Leadership are aiming to register 5,000 people who are out on parole. An earlier effort that registered about 200 parolees to vote in Colorado was cut short by the coronavirus outbreak. The latest push comes with just over a month to Election Day, and the criminal justice coalition’s Juston Cooper acknowledges its ambition.
“We have the opportunity to try to reach that majority of people, but as far as registering, we’re going to work our butts off to get as many people registered as possible, ” Cooper said.
The law is part of a broader effort to expand voting rights in Colorado, said state Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a sponsor of the bill. “In my opinion, part of being successful and reentering into society is voting,” Fenberg said.
The work dovetails with other efforts in Colorado intended to help people participate in the election while still incarcerated. Denver is developing an in-person voting location inside the Denver jail this year.
Under the law, individuals convicted of felonies can vote as soon as they are released from prison, even if they have not yet paid all their fines or restitution. This applies to those on parole, who must meet a series of conditions before completing their sentence.
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The measure’s passage added Colorado to a list of 16 other states where felons automatically have their voting rights restored when they are released from prison.
Two other states, Vermont and Maine, allow felons to vote while in prison. Still, more than half of states don’t allow parolees to vote and a federal court determined people convicted of felonies must pay all fines before they are again able to vote.
Colorado’s parolee law was lauded by criminal justice reform organizations who said it restored the vote to a marginalized segment of the population. NAACP Rocky Mountain President Rosemary Lytle said her organization is working with partners to make sure formerly incarcerated people are aware of their ability to vote this election.
“We are always intentional about letting people know their rights because incarceration has disproportionately impacted communities of color and particularly Black communities,” Lytle said.
Another new addition in Colorado this year: in-person voting in Denver jails. People serving time for misdemeanors have long been able to vote in Colorado, but this year there will be polling places set up in the downtown Denver detention center and Denver county jail. Cooper, the deputy director of the criminal justice reform coalition, said Denver would be the third city in the nation to take that step.
“We’re really encouraging people to know their rights, understand their eligibility and get to vote, not only in this important federal election, but down ballot as well,” Cooper said.
The coronavirus pandemic could jeopardize the effort to allow those in jail to vote, Denver Sheriff Department spokeswoman Daria Serna said, but she was optimistic the plan would be able to go forward. For the past four years, she said, the sheriff has coordinated voter registration drives in the jails with local organizations and the Denver Elections Division.
Here’s what you need to know about voting with a criminal record in Colorado:
Can felons who are released from prison vote in Colorado?
Yes. As soon as they are released from prison, even while serving on parole, felons are eligible to vote. But they must register like everyone else.
Those who were registered to vote prior to serving their sentence must re-register. Parole officials are required to provide newly released individuals with information about their voting rights and how to cast a ballot. The secretary of state’s office also says it “can take some time” for state records to reflect the updated voting rights of people who have recently been released from prison.
Can felons vote while serving a prison sentence?
No. And it’s a felony to vote while serving prison time for a felony.
However, those in jail awaiting trial may vote in any election. So can individuals out on bond. State election officials advise individuals in either of those situations to “contact their jail administrator to coordinate voter registration.”
Can people convicted of misdemeanors vote?
Yes. People who are convicted of misdemeanors do not lose their voting rights and can vote while serving time in jail.
Fremont County Clerk and Recorder Justin Grantham said criminals can update their voter registration when they are processed at the jail. He also said his team will go cell to cell ahead of an election to collect ballots from those who want to vote, or the inmates can mail in their ballots. In Arapahoe County, the elections office plans to make a ballot drop box available to inmates.
“Whatever we can do to help, we do the best we can with what we got,” Grantham said.
What if someone is convicted for a crime in another state?
The right to vote is determined by the state where a person lives. Any Colorado resident who has completed their prison sentence can vote.
Do felons have to pay off all their restitution before they can vote?
Convicted criminals are not required to finish paying restitution or other fines before they get back the right to vote. As soon as they’re released from prison, they can vote.