Colorado governor approves nation’s first statewide voting program for prisoners

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a bill Friday setting up a voting program for inmates held in county jails, a first-of-its-kind effort expanding the ability to vote to those in local custody.

The law requires counties to designate an employee to coordinate voting access for those in custody, including at least one day of in-person voting. People convicted of felonies are not eligible to vote in Colorado, though those who were convicted of a misdemeanor or are awaiting trial are eligible.

At least 61 voting sites will be set up in county facilities across the state for the November election, the Colorado secretary of state’s office said.

State Sen. Julie Gonzales (D), who sponsored the bill, told NBC News that the initiative is intended to solve previous logistical challenges that prevented many inmates from voting.

“In Colorado, we really pride ourselves on our gold star election system,” Gonzales said. “Yet we realized that there was a group of individuals who weren’t able to fully access the ballot.”

Just eight jails nationwide allow inmates to easily cast ballots, according to the Prison Policy Institute, including two facilities in Denver. The Denver program began in 2020, with more than 150 inmates voting in that election.

While activists have pushed for years to encourage states to allow inmates to vote after they are released, few efforts have been made to advocate for voting by those behind bars. An estimated half million people are in custody awaiting trial nationwide, according to Justice Department data as of 2022.

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