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Colorado Democrats approve law offering in-person voting to individuals BEHIND BARS this November

  Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has signed into law a bill requiring election officials  to provide voting services in 61 county detention cente...

 Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has signed into law a bill requiring election officials to provide voting services in 61 county detention centers and jails across the state for elections.

The new law, Senate Bill 72, will ensure that those awaiting trial or serving sentences for misdemeanors can exercise their right to vote, a right that remains despite incarceration. Colorado law bars individuals serving time for felony convictions from voting but allows those awaiting trial or convicted of misdemeanors to participate in elections.

Under SB 72, law enforcement and election officials must provide six hours of in-person voting and registration services within detention facilities. Additionally, eligible voters will have the option to return mail-in ballots if they prefer. County staff members will be designated as poll workers and election officials will be granted access to Corrections Department data to prevent those with felony convictions from voting.  

State Sen. and Majority Whip Julie Gonzales (D-Denver), one of the main sponsors of the bill, stated that logistical challenges have historically prevented eligible voters in detention from casting their ballots. In line with this, Gonzales stressed the importance of this initiative for incarcerated individuals.

"One of the things that we heard from people who had previously been incarcerated was that being able to weigh in on these elections was so important for them to remember that even though they are navigating the criminal legal system, that they still are a member of a community, a citizen of Colorado, and that they still had rights and obligations," Gonzales said. 

SB 72 was signed on May 31 and will go into effect in time for the November election.

Jefferson County Jail officials clash over inmate voting access in SB 72

At the time when the hearing for SB 72 was still ongoing, officials at the Jefferson County Jail were having a debate about the legislation.

Jefferson County Clerk Amanda Gonzalez stated that the current system fails to provide meaningful ballot access to incarcerated individuals. She noted that out of the approximately 1,000 inmates in the jail, about 60 percent are awaiting trial and thus eligible to vote. Despite this, only six mail-in ballots were returned in the most recent election, and just three in November 2022.

Gonzalez acknowledged the difficulty of setting up the new system in time for the March 5 presidential primary in the state but believes it could be ready by June for the other primary election.

"Ultimately, this is a civil rights issue," she said. "Jails across the country have been able to facilitate in-person voting with great success and actual access. This bill would mean that we would need to figure out those logistics."

However, Gary Gittins, the Detentions Division Chief at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, argued that SB 27 addresses a "non-existent" problem.

Currently, the Jefferson County Jail provides voting services for detained individuals by posting flyers in housing units and providing inmates with information on how to request voter registration forms. Family members are also allowed to deliver mail-in ballots to detained relatives if it works for them.

Gittins noted that this system that the jail has been using for several years has been effective. Gittins argued that implementing a single in-person voting station could cost approximately $2,500 in extra staffing and overtime – paid for by taxpayers – but the new legislation did not provide any information on where that additional funding will come from.

Furthermore, Gittins raised safety concerns about moving inmates, who are separated based on security classifications and medical needs, around the jail for voting purposes. He remained skeptical and said it would be "problematic" to introduce in-person voting, even with the June timeframe.

"The clerk and recorder doesn’t operate the jail. I don’t believe she understands how this place functions," Gittens said. "It’s not as simple as it sounds."

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