Opposition to Senate Bill 24-072 (Ensuring Confined Eligible Electors May Vote)

On Thursday, February 29, 2024, I testified in opposition before the Colorado, State, Civic, Military, & Veterans Affairs Senate Committee regarding Senate Bill 24-072 (CONCERNING PROVISIONS TO ENSURE THAT ELIGIBLE ELECTORS ARE CONFINED AT A COUNTY JAIL OR DETENTION CENTER MAY VOTE).

This bill should have answered the ‘why’ or ‘how’ questions that should always be analyzed.  It should have also included significant organizations such as the County Sheriffs of Colorado (CSCO) and the Colorado County Clerk Association (CCCA).

Per my sworn oath, I must ensure all eligible citizens are enfranchised.  The State of Colorado facilitates that duty by conducting elections by mail-in ballots.  Every active, registered voter receives a mail ballot for an election regardless of their circumstances.

It’s important to note that a robust and effective process already exists to serve eligible, registered voters incarcerated during an election cycle.  Our bipartisan election judges and staff personally deliver ballots to these voters, who can then cast their ballots in a secure ballot box conveniently located at the jail facility.

Establishing a Voter Service and Polling Center (VSPC) at any location is fraught with complexities and legal requirements.  The placement of a VSPC at a correctional facility would compound these.  Security and safety issues for our election judges and staff members are a predominant concern. 

Other factors that make me oppose this bill are the unfunded mandate and potential lawsuits arising from placing a VSPC in a jail facility, whether for one day as the bill stipulates or many.  It is an unfunded mandate to all sixty-four Colorado counties that would unnecessarily deplete resources.  Also, there was no discussion about the possibility of lawsuits that may arise if an election judge, full-time/part-time staff member, or an incarcerated individual raises the cause of injury.

Sheriff Joe Roybal is in charge of the state’s largest jail facility, and neither the Sheriff nor I were invited to the discussion table about this bill.

This bill appeared to be a solution looking for a problem, and again, it needs to answer the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  Incarcerated voters are enfranchised and are not denied their constitutional right to vote.  Establishing a VSPC in a jail or detention facility is an unfunded mandate, a waste of resources, is fraught with many unaddressed concerns, and puts dedicated election judges, staff, and possibly inmates at risk.

Governor Polis signed This Bill into law on May 31, 2024.

To date, my office is actively addressing the issue of in-person voting in jails.  This bill requires at least one day of in-person voting at each facility, allowing confined eligible electors to exercise their right to vote.  This process necessitates a collaborative effort between my office and the County Sheriff’s Office.  Our joint responsibility includes verifying eligibility, providing information, and establishing temporary voter service and polling centers within the jails.

Sheriff Royball and I met this past week to discuss this bill.  We discussed prioritizing staff and inmate safety, ensuring we comply with this bill and its intent, and allowing all eligible voters to vote.

We both agreed to host this in-person voting day on a Saturday.   In El Paso County, our courts are closed on the weekends, and hosting this event on a Saturday ensures that no one will miss the opportunity to vote in person because they are being transported to or from the county courthouse.

My office will coordinate with the Sheriff’s Office and provide posters and pamphlets letting everyone know that we will be hosting in-person voting in the jail facility on Saturday.

To address the safety concerns, we have devised a plan.  Inmates who wish to cast a ballot will be escorted to our vote center, ensuring their safety and the integrity of the voting process, and back to their assigned pod.  The Sheriff and his command staff have a detailed plan for how this will occur.

As shared, El Paso County’s jail is the largest in the state, and many of the inmates housed here are not even residents of our county or the State of Colorado.  Many of our incarcerated citizens’ homes of record are outside Colorado awaiting extradition or from another county in Colorado.  Although these inmates cannot participate in our local El Paso County elections, we will ensure that they can legally vote on the ballot that they are eligible to vote.

Also, the State of Colorado allows same-day voter registration; however, a valid driver’s license is one required document to register to vote.  If confined, this is considered personal property and is stored with their other personal belongings, which are then returned when this citizen is released from the jail facility.  The Sheriff and I have incorporated a process by including jail reports that provide the necessary information to allow inmates to register and eliminate the need for many inmates to access their personal property.

In Colorado, it is illegal to register to vote or cast a vote while serving a sentence of incarceration or detention for a felony conviction.  We, too, will be using these same reports to ensure these inmates are not able to participate.

I believe the Sheriff and I have a very good and detailed plan to ensure the safety of our staff and inmates and the ability of all eligible voters to vote.

Thank you,

Steve

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