He Wouldn't Be Able To Vote For 38 Years
In 2006, Andres Idarraga was a 28-year-old student at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. At the time, Rhode Island law prohibited individuals with felony convictions from voting until they completed parole and probation, and Idarraga became a prominent advocate for restoring the right to vote to thousands disenfranchised in Rhode Island because of a felony conviction.
Idarraga’s commitment to the issue was deeply personal. Because of a felony conviction when he was 20 years old, Rhode Island’s disenfranchisement policy meant that he would not be able to vote until his 58th birthday. After spending six and a half years in prison, he had made great strides in turning his life around. After his release in June of 2004, Idarraga became a full-time student at Brown University studying comparative literature and economics while maintaining full-time employment. Idarraga saw his right to vote as a significant and crucial aspect to rebuilding his life and to contributing to his community.
“I knew education and voting and being responsible to the community were extremely pressing issues for myself,” he told USA Today. He continuously spoke out on the personal and political consequences of felony disenfranchisement and worked alongside several voting rights organizations in Rhode Island to support a ballot initiative to reform the state’s felony disenfranchisement policy.
After months of advocacy work by Idarraga and many others, in November 2006, voters passed a ballot referendum to scale back the disenfranchisement law to allow individuals with felony convictions to vote immediately after being released from prison.
“I went to register to vote the other day,” Idarraga said shortly after the law’s passage. “It feels good to be a part of the democratic process. It was very fulfilling, but truthfully, I had mixed feelings. I thought, why did I have to work so hard just to sign this little piece of paper?”
Prior to November, more than 15,500 residents of Rhode Island could not vote due to a felony conviction. An overwhelming 86 percent of those individuals were, like Idarraga, not in prison. Furthermore, the racial implications of Rhode Island’s felony disenfranchisement laws were extremely problematic: one in five Black men and one in eleven Hispanic men could not vote. Now that the rights of these individuals have been restored, other states can look to Rhode Island as an example in re-enfranchisement.
“I do know I have enjoyed the journey and enjoyed the process of being able to turn my life around,” said Idarraga. “It feels great to see the spectrum what our entire society has to offer, from the underbelly, to the very privileged setting being at Brown. I’m learning how to put it to good use and give back to society and that starts with participating in the democratic process and encouraging others to vote.”
Source: The Sentencing Project