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Voting Rights Restoration

The issue of voting rights restoration for individuals who have been incarcerated is always a hot-button debate. It raises crucial questions about justice, democracy, and the path to rehabilitation. While the United States has made strides in addressing this issue, there is still much work to be done to ensure that every citizen’s right to vote is respected. Exploring the arguments surrounding voting rights restoration and why it is essential is one step toward a more inclusive and equitable society.

1. A Question of Justice

One of the central arguments for voting rights restoration is rooted in the principles of justice. When someone has done their time, accepted their punishment, and returned to society, they are expected to rebuild their lives and reintegrate as responsible citizens. Denying them the right to vote perpetuates the punishment that extends beyond their sentences, making it harder for them to participate in the democratic process and feel a sense of belonging in society

2. Rehabilitation and Reintegration

Returning to a society where justice-impacted individuals are routinely excluded from basic human dignities such as housing and employment. Along with companies embracing Fair Opportunity Hiring, access to voting can provide a sense of belonging, reinforcing the idea that they are active members of the community. This can lead to a greater commitment to contributing positively to society.

3. Reducing Recidivism

Studies have shown a correlation between civic engagement and reduced recidivism rates. When justice-impacted individuals are encouraged to participate in the democratic process, they are more likely to feel invested in their communities, which creates a positive cycle that benefits both the individuals themselves and society as a whole.

4. Upholding Democracy

At the heart of any democracy is the belief in equal representation and the voice of the people. Denying voting rights to a significant priority of the population, even temporarily, undermines this fundamental principle. In fact, felony disenfranchisement is particularly devastating for people of color, who are disproportionately represented in the criminal legal system. A thriving democracy is one where all voices are heard, regardless of past mistakes or convictions. By restoring voting rights, we strengthen our democracy and ensure it remains a beacon of equality and justice. 

Here in Colorado, justice-impacted individuals receive their voting rights back upon their release from prison if they have been convicted of a felony. In fact, some individuals have even been able to vote while incarcerated in county jails. Colorado law states that “No person while serving a sentence of detention or confinement in a correctional facility, jail, or other location for a felony conviction or while serving a sentence of parole shall be eligible to register to vote or to vote in any election; however, a confined person who is awaiting trial but has not been tried shall be certified by the institutional administrator and shall be permitted to register to vote by mail registration pursuant to part 5 of this article. Colorado Revised Statute §1-2-103 (4).

This means that the following people are eligible to register and vote in Colorado:

  • People with a past criminal conviction who have completed their sentence, including parole (if required)
  • People currently in jail pretrial (pending the outcome of the criminal case)
  • People currently on probation for either a misdemeanor or felony
  • People currently in jail serving a misdemeanor sentence only

The Colorado Criminal Justice Coalition has also published a helpful guide addressing FAQ’s about voting with a criminal record or while incarcerated.

While voting rights restoration can be a contentious issue, it’s one that deserves serious consideration. It touches on questions of justice, rehabilitation, and the very essence of democracy. By allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to participate in the democratic process, we acknowledge their potential for growth and change, reduce the likelihood of recidivism, and strengthen our democracy.

As society continues to evolve and strive for greater equity and inclusivity, it is essential that we reevaluate and reform policies that disenfranchise a portion of our population. Restoration of voting rights for the formerly incarcerated is not only a step towards a fairer and more just society, but also stands as a testament to a belief in the power of redemption and the importance of every citizen’s voice in shaping our collective future.

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