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Paul Rosenthal's bill would boost voting rights for those in youth correctional facilities

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If they are eligible to vote, individuals in youth correctional facilities should be able to cast ballots. That's the thinking of Representative Paul Rosenthal, who is pushing a bill that would make clear the voting rights of those in Division of Youth Corrections custody.

The proposal is personal: As a teacher at one of these facilities, Rosenthal has seen firsthand how frustrating it is when eligible students can't vote.

"This is pretty commonsense," Rosenthal says. "I'm only putting into statute what is currently practiced."

Rosenthal, a Democrat and first-time lawmaker who now represents parts of Denver, explains that the standard practice in Colorado is that individuals in youth correctional facilities who meet all the legal requirements to vote are allowed to vote. But, he says, confusion around their rights and what documentation they need makes it even harder for them to obtain what the paperwork they need in time to vote.

Rosenthal believes that by putting the general practice into law would make the system easier to understand for these individuals, their families and their case workers or facility administrators. If passed, Colorado statute would explicitly state the right to register and vote and outline what is required for these individuals to do so.

"During the last election, I noticed that so many kids were asking me, 'How am I able to vote?'" says Rosenthal, who is a teacher at Ridge View Academy, a contract facility of the state's Division of Youth Corrections, or DYC; the agency falls under the Human Services department. "I wanted to make sure that if I'm [registering them], that it is legal."

Rosenthal teaches committed youth, typically ages fourteen to nineteen, and also for seven years has served on the Denver Community Corrections Board in a mayor-appointed position.

After working with the Denver Elections Division and the Secretary of State's office, Rosenthal says he finally was able to confirm that certain youth were eligible and allowed to vote.

But it didn't seem to be clearly written into law anywhere -- and this kind of ambiguity could be problematic for legitimate voters, he says.

"I've done the searches -- nowhere...does it specifically say, 'This is the law,' to my knowledge," he says. "I want to make it eminently clear."

Rosenthal explains that because the individuals in question are in a youth facility, they have not been convicted of an adult offense and thus remain eligible to vote if they are eighteen or older and a citizen. He estimates that there may be around 150 people in the DYC facilities across the state who would fall under this category and could be impacted by such a law.

Continue for more specifics on Representative Rosenthal's proposed legislation. As he worked to help register his eligible students -- at the same time as he was campaigning -- it became clear to Rosenthal that this would be a good first bill to push.

After all, he had difficulties helping the youth get the necessary documentation, he recalls, since some of them did not have their state identifications or social security information easily accessible.

And even after some successfully registered and received mail ballots, there were further problems when it came time to vote.

"It was even worse than the initial registration period," he says. "So many of them didn't have any of the IDs required.

"There were definitely some of them who could not obtain the proper documentation in time," he continues. "It was very sad to report to them that they were too late."

He says it was especially disappointing because, "For all of them, this would be their very first time they would vote."

Rosenthal hopes his bill would make the requirements clear and help increase awareness so that these kinds of scenarios can be avoided going forward.

As its written, the legislation, of which he is currently the sole sponsor, would require facility administrators to collaborate with the Secretary of State's office to compile a list of documents that are in the possession of the division -- or that individuals in custody are likely to have -- that would be acceptable for registration and casting ballots.

The bill would also require administrators and the Secretary of State to post a list of documents and forms of ID in a "prominent place on the public web sites maintained by the Department of Human Services and the secretary."

Further, the law would require the Secretary of State to provide notice to county clerks and recorders of the specific documents and forms of ID that are acceptable for these individuals.

"It would provide clarity," he says of the bill, which will first be heard at the State Affairs committee next week.

"This is not a Democrat or a Republican bill," he adds. "I'm hoping this is not going to be controversial, because it's most certainly not partisan."

Continue for the full bill. Here's the proposed legislation.

HOUSE BILL 13-1038

More from our Politics archive: "Scott Gessler: Ten politicos weigh in on Secretary of State's first years in office"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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