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The Prisoner Voting Dilemma

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Photo: Downtown Detention Center | Denver City Detention Center | Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center | Denver Jail Inmates registering to vote
Inmates registering to vote at Denver’s downtown detention facility.

Across the country, more than 6 million people can’t vote due to a criminal record. Only about 20,000 -- a third of 1 percent of that total -- live in Colorado, according to the Department of Corrections. The reason is, unlike in other states, convicted felons are re-enfranchised the moment their sentence ends in Colorado. Some other states disenfranchise felons for life.

But here’s the thing: many Coloradans think ex-felons can’t vote here. That alone could discourage people from submitting a ballot. If people don’t think they’re eligible to vote, they probably won’t try.

The state is now working overtime to dispel that myth. New legislation says people leaving the criminal justice system have to learn about their voting rights and gives parolees the chance to pre-register. The Secretary of State is also working to help people vote in county jails. A bipartisan coalition is behind those changes, but how far is it willing to go toward re-enfranchising people within the criminal justice system?