AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) — A decades-old election law is now under the microscope because it bans convicted felons from running for city office.
American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado filed a lawsuit in Arapahoe County Thursday over a stipulation in the City of Aurora charter that says, “Persons convicted of a felony shall not become a candidate and are not qualified to hold elective office.”
The suit stems from Aurora activist Candice Bailey. She sits on Aurora’s Citizens’ Advisory Budget Committee and Aurora’s Community Police Task Force and she is a leader in the movement for justice for Elijah McClain.
Her next goal is to run for city council in November.
However, according to the ACLU, she was convicted of assault in 1999 and served three years in prison. Her record automatically disqualifies her from candidacy in Aurora.
“The mistakes of your life shouldn’t stop you from living life to the fullest or being of service,” Bailey said in a statement. “This is not just about me, but about making sure that all future candidates with felony convictions won’t face the same barrier I have, and ultimately, for voters to decide who they want to represent their communities.”
ACLU of Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein says in addition to being discriminatory, Aurora’s stipulation goes against Colorado’s constitution.
“What the constitution says is that [upon completing the sentence] you are restored to your full rights of citizenship. So, it’s not just voting. It’s also the right to run for office,” Silverstein said.
City of Aurora spokesperson Ryan Luby said the city could not comment, because it had not yet been served with the lawsuit. However, he said “it is important to note that Aurora’s felony candidate rule was first included in the city charter, which was approved by voters in 1961.”
Since the rule is in the charter, there are only two ways to change it: through voters or a judge.
While those with a felony on their record can not run for office in Aurora, a person with a prior felony can be hired to a city office.
“Any individual applying for a position as an employee with the city of Aurora must be cleared through an appropriate background check and/or investigation. Each background is evaluated on a case-by-case basis and any past convictions are dependent on the relatedness to the position,” Luby said.
In 2019, Colorado lawmakers passed what is known as “Ban the Box,” which prohibits employers with 11 or more employees from asking an applicant to disclose criminal history on an initial application or stating on an advertisement or application that a person with a criminal history can not apply.
The ACLU is asking the judge for candidates and applicants to be treated and judged equally.
“People should be evaluated on who they are now. We need to consider that people can change and for someone’s mistake to wind up punishing them for the rest of their lives I think is not right,” Silverstein said.
According to ACLU of Colorado, Pueblo and Fort Collins have similar stipulations regarding prospective candidates with felony convictions. Colorado Springs had one until 2001.