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Ballot boxes at the Arapahoe County elections facility, June 9, 2022, in Littleton. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Most people in Colorado’s local jails are eligible to vote, but many barriers prevent them from doing so, including confusion about eligibility.

Here’s a guide to help.

Are people in county jails who are waiting for their trial eligible to vote?

Yes, any Colorado resident who is awaiting trial or serving a sentence from a misdemeanor conviction in a county jail is eligible to cast a vote if registered.

Last fall, 233 ballots were delivered to jails across the state and 146 were returned, according to data provided by Colorado Secretary of State’s Office.

In 2020, 610 general election ballots were delivered to eligible voters in jails and 433 were returned, data shows. 

In order to receive a ballot in the mail, people in jails must have been registered to vote by Oct. 31. 

What jails in Colorado offer in-person voting?

On this upcoming Election Day, no one incarcerated in Colorado’s county jails will be allowed to vote in person. Instead, inmates must vote by sending in their ballots ahead of the election. Election officials recommend people mail their ballots back no later than a week before Election Day to ensure they are received in time to be counted. 

Denver introduced in-person polling at its county jail and downtown detention center in 2020 and 136 ballots were cast between them, according to Denver’s Office of the Clerk and Recorder’s annual report. 

Inmates won’t be able to vote in-person this year, but the Denver Sheriff Department plans to consider in-person voting for inmates next year, spokeswoman Daria Serna told The Colorado Sun. 

How do people in jail have access to ballots, voting guides and registration?

Before each election, county clerks are required to work with their county sheriff’s office to help ensure eligible inmates in all Colorado county jails have the opportunity to register to vote and to ensure jails have a plan on how to collect and deliver ballots.

The nonprofit Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition works with people incarcerated at the Arapahoe County Jail and Denver County Jail and detention center to provide nonpartisan voter resources, including flyers on ballot measures as a guide to help voters fill out their ballot.

The nonprofit has helped register more than 1,000 voters since 2016 – half of which have voted in an election, said Jasmine Ross, a civic engagement manager. 

This year, the Denver Sheriff Department worked with the nonprofit, the Denver Elections Division and the League of Women Voters to host voter registration drives for the first time to explain eligibility requirements and provide paperwork to register voters by mail. Ballots can be sent to a home address, to a community organization that can accept mail for unhoused individuals or to the jail, Serna said.

At the El Paso County jail, inmates who are eligible to vote may drop off their ballots in a locked ballot box inside the jail, spokeswoman Deb Mynatt said. 

The 2022 election blue book is compiled by nonpartisan legislative staff to help Colorado voters understand the ballot measures. (David Krause, The Colorado Sun)

Through tablets, inmates have access to the 2022 state ballot information booklet, which describes each ballot issue and proposition and includes an election calendar and other voting resources. 

The jail works with the county’s director of elections to identify which people in the jail are eligible to vote, Mynatt said. This year, only one ballot was delivered to the El Paso County jail, which can detain upward of 1,000 people on a daily basis. Last year, nine ballots were delivered and four were returned. 

Ballots delivered by the U.S. Postal Service do not go through the jail’s third-party mail vendor, which routes mail to Maryland. Instead, the ballots are treated like legal mail and delivered to the inmate the same or next business day, she said. 

People in jail should always have access to voter registration forms by contacting a program administrator. 

In Boulder County, a support services sergeant works with inmates to help them register, update their mailing address and get their ballots delivered and returned, a spokeswoman said. This year, the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office launched a voting rights campaign and bilingual posters were posted in the jail explaining eligibility requirements

The sheriff’s office will also mail ballots to different counties, if necessary.

Can someone serving a jail or prison sentence for a felony conviction vote in an election?

No. In Colorado, it is illegal to register to vote or cast a vote while imprisoned for a felony conviction. Registering or voting illegally is a Class 5 felony under Colorado law and could result in a sentence up to three years. 

Can parolees vote?

Anyone who is on parole is considered to have completed their “full term of imprisonment” and is eligible to register to vote and cast ballots, according to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. 

In 2019, Colorado passed a bill that restored the right to vote for more than 11,000 people who were on parole at the time. 

House Bill 1266 expanded voting rights to people on parole, but only about 27% of people who have been on parole since 2019 have registered to vote since the law was enacted, according to an analysis by The Marshall Project and The Colorado Sun earlier this year. Outdated messaging printed on government forms was partly to blame.

People who have posted bail and are waiting for their trial are eligible to vote as long as they are not convicted and serving a prison or jail sentence for a felony at the time of the election. Those on probation are also eligible to register to vote and cast their vote in any election. 

You can check if you are registered to vote by entering your name, ZIP code and date of birth, here, and register online with a valid driver’s license, Colorado identification card or Social Security number, here. 

Olivia Prentzel

Olivia Prentzel is a general assignment writer for The Colorado Sun. Email: oliviaprentzel@coloradosun.com