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Ex-felons can vote 

Campaign battles misperceptions of Colorado law

When Carol Peeples called 30 county election officials across Colorado and asked them if someone with a felony conviction can register to vote, one-third of them gave the wrong answer.

The correct response is "yes" in Colorado, so long as a felon has completed his or her sentence.

Peeples, who heads the recently formed Colorado Voting Project, a nonprofit designed to inform ex-convicts they ought to exercise their civic muscles and vote, said county clerks who erred missed important nuances.

Some didn't know that people on probation should not be prevented from voting.

It is parolees -- offenders who have been released from prison, but are still serving a sentence -- who are barred from voting in Colorado.

With the state's deadline to register to vote about three weeks away, Peeples frets that the confusion could mean ex-felons will be disenfranchised in the Nov. 2 presidential elections.

"It's undemocratic when any segment of the population is disenfranchised," she said.

Peeples declined to provide a list of the clerk offices she called, but this summer she launched a statewide effort to contact roughly 23,000 state offenders and encourage them to register if they have finished paying their debt to society. The effort, largely volunteer in nature, received a $2,500 grant through the Right to Vote Campaign, a coalition of national civil liberties and minority groups.

Not only are some clerks pressed to understand the law, but so are ex-felons, said Louis Williams, who is registering ex-felons on behalf of ACORN, a Denver nonprofit that advocates for the issues of low- and moderate-income residents. With a felony conviction for cocaine and time to go on parole, the 40-year-old Williams said he didn't know he would be able to vote once he completes his sentence until somebody on the outside told him.

"In prison, people would say we couldn't vote," he said. "They said we didn't have the right."

Karen Young, a Pueblo resident convicted of theft who was released on parole, but returned to prison in December for a parole violation, heard the same thing.

"I didn't even know I had that option," she said. "I thought once you are a felon, you didn't have a right to vote."

Young plans to register to vote next week, when her sentence is completed.

Recent Colorado Department of Corrections statistics show more than 56 percent of felons were imprisoned for nonviolent offenses, such as a minor drug conviction or writing a bad check.

It is harder for people with felony records to vote in many other states, such as Kentucky, where a pardon from the governor is necessary before voters get their privileges. Maine and Vermont are the only states without restrictions on people with felony records. Even inmates in those states can vote.

Approximately 1.7 million ex-offenders across the nation are somehow prevented from voting because of their records, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Sentencing Project.

Advocates for allowing people with criminal records to vote point to a widening racial gap. In Nevada, for example, 17.1 percent of blacks cannot vote because of felony convictions, according to the Right to Vote Campaign.

-- Michael de Yoanna

capsule

For more information about Colorado Voting Project:

www.coloradovotingproject.org

719/221-2226 or e-mail info@coloradovotingproject.org

  • Campaign battles misperceptions of Colorado law

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