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'I don't miss an election:' How Coloradans who can't vote still engage in democracy

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DENVER Voting is a privilege for United States citizens in Colorado, but for many residents — people who live in and love this community — it’s a privilege they don’t have access to.

In 2020, voters in Colorado passed a ballot measure clarifying that “only citizens” can vote. Even though that is already federal law, Colorado codified that only U.S. citizens 18 years and older can vote. It was seen more as a symbolic measure.

That leaves out a large group of people from the voting process, like people who are lawful permanent residents, green card holders, refugees, asylum seekers and people with U nonimmigrant status (U visa) who are victims of certain crimes.

Meet those who can’t vote but love being civically engaged

Despite not being able to vote, meet these men who exercise their civic duty.

“I don’t miss an election … I know elections will affect me,” said Victor Galvan, the manager of strategic partnerships for Conservation Colorado.

“I’ve built a career creating access for me and people who are like me," he said. "If I can make a difference in the community and encourage them to work with each other to make that change that is the difference I want to make.”  

Galvan’s work has always been around elections, policy and civic engagement. He has a passion for making sure people’s voices are being heard. However, he can't vote because he is undocumented.  

“On one part it’s heartbreaking,” said Galvan, “but then also it’s what gives me energy … I know it’s not the only way I can make an influence on the policies. I, of course, can talk to other voters and encourage them to vote.”

That is, in large part, what he is doing right now in his current role — making sure that people are informed about their rights.  

Galvan was brought to this country when he was 8 months old. Still, there still hasn’t been a path to citizenship, legislative or otherwise, that would allow him to vote.  

Salvador Hernandez is in the same boat.  

“I had a very long journey as an immigrant in this country,” said Hernandez. He is the Colorado State Director of Mi Familia Vota, a national civic engagement nonprofit organization that unites Latino, immigrant and allied communities to promote social and economic justice. 

Hernandez has spent a large part of his life and career inspiring others to vote, even though he cannot vote himself.  

“I feel like I’ve been watching the game from the sidelines, encouraging people,” said Hernandez. 

He’ll become eligible to apply for citizenship in 2024. If his application process goes smoothly and he passes his naturalization test, he’ll be able to vote in the next presidential election.  

“Now, I’ll be putting on the jersey and stepping in the court," Hernandez said. "So I’m really looking forward to that.” 

Even though both Hernandez and Galvan cannot vote, both men are inspiring cases for those who do have the power to make their voice heard at the polls. 

“I have a hard time with people who decide not to vote but I know that in a way that is a vote,” said Galvan. “It’s a vote of confidence in our government and I think it comes with a lot of privilege. There’s a lot of privilege in saying, 'I don’t have to be a part of a political system that will take care of me.' If they didn’t feel that way, they would absolutely vote. If they didn’t feel represented by their government, they’d be eager to vote.”

Sonia Gutierrez is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at

Julio Sandoval is a multimedia journalist with Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at

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