Colorado Governor Signs Law Requiring Jails to Provide In-Person Voting

WASHINGTON D.C. — Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) signed a bill on Friday requiring county jails and detention centers to provide in-person voting for incarcerated individuals who are not serving time for a felony conviction.

Under the state’s election law, the eligible voters include incarcerated people who have not been tried and are awaiting trial, those who are being held in a state institution for behavioral and mental health disorders and others — this law does not extend to those serving sentences for felony convictions.

The Voting for Confined Eligible Electors law — which the Legislature sent to the governor on May 16 — mandates that county officials must coordinate with the person in each jail or detention center who will administer the elections.

The secretary of state will create the materials that county officials will use to provide training and technical assistance to the designated voters.

For a general election, county jails and detention centers are required to provide voter information materials and hold at least one day of in-person voting for eligible incarcerated voters. Voting must be open for at least six hours and held between four to 15 days before Election Day.

For mail-in voting, each county jail and detention center must establish a location for ballots to be returned, ensure that voters know where and when to return them and monitor outgoing mail for any ballots that should be in the designated collection area.

This law will make it easier for eligible incarcerated individuals to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming November election.

Any county that doesn’t comply with this law will face a $5,000 penalty per violation.

Last month, Colorado House Democrats released a statement expressing their support for the bill.

“We know that Coloradans who are Black, Indigenous and people of color are overrepresented in our criminal justice system, and when they are prevented from voting, their voices are not heard,” said Colorado Rep. Manny Rutinel (D) in a statement. 

In the statement, the Democrats noted that in the 2020 general election, out of an estimated 5,205 eligible incarcerated voters, only 557 — or 7% — received a ballot. In the 2022 general election, out of an estimated 4,876 eligible confined voters, only 231 individuals — or 5% — received ballots.

“Low levels of voter turnout in our jails show that there are not enough resources or education about voting access in confined spaces,” said Rep. Kyle Brown (D) in the statement. “I’m proud to carry this legislation to ensure that eligible voters will have the opportunity to engage in our democratic process.”

Colorado House Republicans were not able to provide a comment at the time of publication.

Also, Polis signed another election bill on Friday, which prohibits people from carrying a firearm in any manner within 100 feet of a polling location, central count facility or ballot drop box while election administration activity is occurring. A state law previously banned openly carrying a firearm in and around these locations, but this new law would ban both concealed and open carry.

Read the Voting for Confined Eligible Electors law here.

This story was updated on June 5, 2024 at 9:55 a.m. EDT to add that Polis signed a second election bill on Friday.