Law Enforcement

Latest Blow to Laws That Ban Candidates With Past Felonies

A self-portrait of Candice Bailey.
A self-portrait of Candice Bailey. Photo by Candice Bailey via KUNC
Earlier this month, an Arapahoe County District Court judge effectively junked a passage from the Aurora city charter that banned candidates with past felonies from running for office — a direct response to a complaint by the ACLU of Colorado on behalf of Candice Bailey, whose bid for Aurora City Council last year was initially blocked by the rule.

Aurora subsequently made an exception for Bailey (she finished fourth in the race for two at-large seats), but the ruling, issued on March 14, makes it clear that the prohibition against people convicted of felonies runs afoul of the state constitution. The City of Aurora plans to run a ballot issue this November to fix the problem once and for all — but it's hardly the only community in Colorado where the issue lingers.

Bailey's criminal record dates back to the end of the last century: In 1999, when she was 22 years old, she entered a guilty plea to second-degree assault and served approximately three years in prison. But this passage of time didn't circumvent Aurora law, which states: "Persons convicted of a felony shall not become a candidate and are not qualified to hold elective office."

In an August 2021 interview, ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein explained why his organization objected to this passage. "The Colorado Constitution actually speaks to this issue in regard to civic life," he pointed out. "When you're sentenced to prison, you lose your right to vote — but it's automatically restored when you've completed your sentence. The Constitution says your full rights to citizenship are fully restored, and that includes not just the right to vote, but the right to run for public office."

As a result, he said, "It's a violation of our client's rights for Aurora to hold that our client is permanently disqualified from public office in that city simply because of a two-decade-old felony conviction. She could run for the House of Representatives, she could run for any statewide office — but for some reason in Aurora, a felony conviction bars her from participating in local government in that manner."

The ACLU of Colorado filing on Bailey's behalf pointed out similar language in several other city charters statewide. Here are examples included in the document:
Arvada City Charter: “No individual shall be eligible to hold the office of City Councilmember, or Mayor, who has been convicted of a felony in any court of the United States within ten (10) years of the date of assuming the office of City Councilmember.”

Brighton City Charter: "No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be eligible to be elected or appointed to the office of Mayor or Council Member."

Evans City Charter: "A person who has been convicted of a felony shall not be eligible to become a candidate for a City Office."

Federal Heights City Charter: "No person who has been convicted of a felony or a willful violation of this Charter shall be nominated or elected as Mayor or councilmember."

Fort Collins City Charter: "No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be eligible to be a candidate for, or hold, the office of Councilmember."

Greeley City Charter: "A person who has been convicted of a felony shall not be eligible to become a candidate for a City office."

Johnstown City Charter: "No person who has been convicted of a felony...shall be qualified to serve as Mayor or Councilmember."

Lone Tree City Charter: "No person who has been convicted of a felony may serve as a Council member...."

Montrose City Charter: "Every elector may be a candidate for the office of Councilor, if he has never been convicted of a felony...."

Pueblo City Charter: "A person who has been convicted of a felony shall not become a candidate for the Council or Mayor."

Windsor City Charter: "No person who has been convicted of a felony shall be eligible to be elected or appointed to the office of Mayor or Board Member."
According to Annie Kurtz, an attorney who worked with the ACLU of Colorado on the case, the importance of the recent opinion goes beyond Bailey.

"The ruling is a significant legal victory that undermines the validity of similar provisions still in force in jurisdictions all over the state," Kurtz points out. "These laws exemplify the collateral consequences that attach to criminal conviction, with disproportionate harm to individuals and communities of color. The court’s decision sends a powerful message that formerly incarcerated people are not second-class Coloradans — that they belong on ballots for public office."

Aurora spokesperson Ryan Luby notes that "the Aurora City Council adopted an ordinance last summer that changed the eligibility to hold municipal office to comport with the State Constitution. Additionally, the City Clerk included a note in the City Charter to reflect [a] November court order that granted Ms. Bailey a permanent injunction against the city."

However, Luby adds, "a ballot question for Aurora voters will be coming forward later this year to bring the charter into compliance as well."

One down, many more to go. Click to read Candice Bailey v. City of Aurora, et al. and the order regarding the plaintiff's motion for judgment.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts