AURORA – The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) spends much of its time ahead of the mid-terms dispelling the myth that people with criminal records can’t vote. In fact, most people with criminal records can vote in Colorado.
“Folks who are eligible have a right to vote. Not only in our state but also in our country. Voting is a right,” said Juston Cooper, deputy director of CCJRC. “Part of what reduces recidivism is people’s opportunity to civically engage.”
That’s why Cooper spends so much time in Colorado jails, educating inmates about their constitutional rights. He worked with the Denver Sheriff Department and Denver Elections to register inmates in the county jail on Thursday. In Colorado, the only criminals exempted from voting are those currently serving felony convictions or on parole.
That means people on probation, inmates awaiting trial and inmates serving time for misdemeanors have a right to register to vote and vote. Cooper and CCJRC have registered 762 inmates so far in 2018.
“We’re hoping they turn out to vote in 2018. We won’t know until post-election results, but they all indicated that they’re registering,” he said. “They’re more interested in issues surrounding criminal justice because they’re in the system. The other thing that comes up is housing. Housing ends up being a huge issue for them.”
CCJRC conducted polling that shows only a small majority of Coloradans (57 percent) know that convicted felons can vote once they’ve served their sentence. That number, according to their polling, drops to 36 percent among people of color.
“That’s where the issue lies. Where the gap lies,” said Cooper.
CCJRC has reached out to people outside of jail and prison, too. A handful of bus benches in Aurora now read “In Colorado, most people with criminal records CAN VOTE!” and “On probation in Colorado? You CAN VOTE!”
There are approximately 77,000 adults on probation in Colorado according to an annual statistical report by the Colorado Judicial Branch.
“If folks are eligible, they should have just as much of an equal opportunity to exercise their constitutional right as any other citizen,” said Cooper. “We all need to support our constitutional right to vote. Voting is a right.”
CCJRC also worked with the Secretary of State’s office to make sure as many inmates as possible know their rights. As of 2018, all 56 county jails in Colorado have to come up with “meaningful opportunity” for those who are eligible to register and vote.
For more information visit VotingWithConviction.org.