When you find yourself caught up in the criminal justice system issues emerge that you never had to consider before. One of those issues is the question of voting.
Felony disenfranchisement is a term that describes how individuals who have a felony charge or conviction on their record find themselves shut out of voting. It’s common to hear, “I can’t vote, I have a criminal record.” Many people believe that once you have been convicted of a crime you lose many rights and privileges including the right to vote. But this is simply not true.
Each state is allowed to make its own rules about who can vote with regard to criminal records and the range of consequences is great. There are states like Maine and Vermont where voting is unrestricted and prisoners may mail in absentee ballots from jail. And on the other end there are states like Florida, Iowa and Kentucky, where even after completing all your time and related obligations, individuals still have to petition the clemency board or the governor to regain their right to vote.
Colorado falls in the middle.
Voting Restrictions in Colorado
Understanding the rules and restrictions around voting starts with identifying the type of case involved, meaning whether it is a misdemeanor, felony, or petty offense. Misdemeanor and petty offense convictions do not affect voting rights. If you have a felony charge or conviction you are usually working through the state level and it may include jail time and parole, which is required in Colorado as an extension of the sentence if you are imprisoned. In Colorado, felons still serving their time (including parole or federal supervised release) cannot vote. Additionally, if a person is in a halfway house or in a non-residential status for a felony, they cannot vote. However, once the sentence and parole is completed, voting rights are restored.
On the other hand, if you have a pending misdemeanor or felony case that hasn’t resulted in a conviction, then you can vote. If you are in jail for a misdemeanor, you can vote. And if you have an alternative sentence, like work release or a treatment program that resulted from a misdemeanor charge, you can vote.
But things can get a bit confusing if you are in a diversion program, or serving an alternative sentence for a felony and sometimes judges craft unusual sentences. As a general rule, if a felony is the originating charge and you are not clear where you fall in terms of probation or parole, contact an election official in your county for clarity.
Lastly, if an individual is in jail on a probation violation for a felony and awaiting a revocation hearing, they need to contact an election official to find out if they may still vote.
The rules around voting can be confusing. If you have more questions related to your criminal record, contact the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition (CCJRC) for excellent support and up to date information. And for more information on registering to vote, which you can do, in person, up to and including the day of the election, go to Go Vote Colorado.
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