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Swing state battle: City of Denver looks to register inmates to vote

Elections Division says inmates are ignored
Posted: 12:01 AM, Jun 10, 2016
Updated: 2016-06-10 06:01:00Z

The Denver Elections Division is reaching out to an unlikely group this election season – inmates.

In a first-of-its-kind voter outreach program, elections officials are determined to update records and register all inmates who are eligible to vote in the two Denver jails. Currently, there are about 2,000 inmates in the Denver jail system.           

And in a swing state like Colorado, those jailhouse votes might just be the tipping point.

"We identified the inmate population as a population that may experience some logistically barriers to voting," said Alton Dillard, spokesman for the Denver Elections Division.

Those barriers are similar to those faced by the military and elderly.

Dillard said once outreach is complete, elections workers with the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition will act as election day judges in the jails.

"Almost like a miniature polling place," said Dillard.

Inmates seem pleased with the outreach.

“I think it's a great thing,” said city jail inmate, Dante Pagliasotti. “It's really encouraging to me because a lot of people are misinformed about -- they think that they can't vote just because they have criminal convictions or because they're in jail.”

It’s a common misconception in Colorado that ex-felons can never vote again. The state of Colorado allows ex-felons to vote after they’ve served their time in prison and their parole expires.

And many inmates can vote while incarcerated. Those convicted of misdemeanor crimes and those awaiting trial are still eligible to vote while in jail or prison.

“This is helping us to be a part of society, rather than apart from society,” said Pagliasotti. “There could be a vast different swing in the way this country is headed if you vote in a Democrat or Republican."

Inmate David Trujillo said election officials came through Thursday registering inmates and updating records.

“I was amazed at the number of people who actually signed the papers,” said Trujillo. “Now let's hope they all vote."

“It’s a really empowering thing to hear," said Pagliasotti. “I’m still undecided myself. There's been some elections in the past where it seemed pretty homogenous, you know. Like, pretty much both candidates were roughly the same. There wasn't much difference between the two parties. This year, there are certainly differences between Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton. I'm still trying to learn more about candidates and see where I want to go."

Eleven states do allow convicted felons to vote, as soon as they're released from prison.

Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow convicted felons to vote while they are serving their time in prison.         

“Many of these guys don't realize that it's still their right to vote,” said Trujillo. “We all make mistakes. Some of us shouldn't be making mistakes at our age, but I think everybody needs to know about this. Knowledge is power."

“I’m the first to admit that I've done a lot of stuff wrong,” Pagliasotti said. “It still doesn't mean that these issues don't concern us and that we don't have people on the street that need us to speak for them. I have a 9-month-old son, Lucciano, who needs people to speak for him. It could really change a lot for us and for our children and future generations to come.”

“If you’re not in felony or parole status, you do have the right to vote in the state of Colorado,” said Dillard. “There’s nothing political about this process. Essentially, inmates are one of the target demographics that is historically underserved.”

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