Latest Drug War News

GoodShop: You Shop...We Give!

Shop online at and a percentage of each purchase will be donated to our cause! More than 600 top stores are participating!

The Internet Our Website

Global and National Events Calendar

Bottoms Up: Guide to Grassroots Activism

Prisons and Poisons

November Coalition Projects

Get on the Soapbox! with Soap for Change

November Coalition: We Have Issues!

November Coalition Local Scenes

November Coalition Multimedia Archive

The Razor Wire
Bring Back Federal Parole!
November Coalition: Our House

Stories from Behind The WALL

November Coalition: Nora's Blog

June 1, 2006 - USA Today (US)

RI To Revisit Felons' Voting Rights

Could 'Send Message' to Other States

By Charisse Jones, USA Today

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Andres Idarraga is a sophomore at Brown University in Providence studying comparative literature and economics. He dreams of putting his education to good use and one day casting a ballot. But he will be 58 before he can legally vote in his home state for the first time.

That's because Idarraga, 28, spent about six years in prison for drug and gun possession. Under current Rhode Island law, convicted felons can't vote until they have completed parole and probation, a date 30 years away for Idarraga. So he is speaking out to support a ballot initiative in November that would let felons vote after they leave prison. Its passage would "send a message that we're willing to embrace you, to afford second chances, instead of every step along the way putting up roadblocks," he says.

Rhode Island is one of several states where lawmakers and advocacy groups are working to change laws that deny many felons the right to vote.

An estimated 5.3 million people cannot vote because of a felony conviction, says Ryan King, policy analyst for The Sentencing Project, a research group that favors changes in prison and sentencing rules. Thirty-six states deny that right to felons while they're on parole, and 31 of them also bar voting by felons on probation.

King and other advocates of changing those rules say the restrictions punish people who have served their time and disproportionately affect the poor and people of color.

"In states where there's 20% to 30% of African-Americans who are prohibited from voting, that's a significant portion of the population not being represented by their state or federal legislators," King says.

Some prohibitions against felons voting are being eased:

Nebraska passed a law in March automatically restoring voting rights to felons two years after they complete their sentences, including probation and parole. The state previously had a lifetime ban.

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack last year signed an executive order automatically restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences, including probation or parole, or received early release.

Coalitions of former inmates, faith-based organizations and civil rights groups are registering voters and lobbying election officials and lawmakers in Rhode Island, Kentucky and other states.

Some lawmakers believe the restrictions should stay in place.

"I don't believe we need to have a voting bloc that comes out of prison angry at the sheriff's department ... and angry at the prosecutor's office," says Tennessee state Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican. "I don't think it's right to have them on the same level as people who've paid their taxes and played by the rules."

McCormick sponsored a bill that would have barred anyone convicted of a felony on or after July 1 from voting. That legislation died while another measure, which makes it simpler for some felons to regain their voting rights, passed this year.

Christopher Uggen, a criminologist and sociology professor at the University of Minnesota, says that "once people start voting, they're quite a bit less likely to commit new crimes." He adds that while programs such as work release carry risk, "I think we can clearly say that there's no threat to public safety by permitting prisoners and felons to vote."

Concerns that some people were unfairly blocked from voting in Florida during the 2000 presidential election and other close races since then have fueled efforts to overturn laws that bar felons from voting, King says. The laws have led to 1.4 million black men, or 13%, being unable to vote, more than five times the national average, the Sentencing Project says.

"Particularly in the South, these laws were part of the old Jim Crow package," says Monifa Bandele, field director of the Right to Vote Campaign, a national coalition helping felons regain voting rights.

The Rhode Island Family Life Center, which helps former inmates and their families, is one of several groups distributing literature on college campuses and registering people to vote with the goal of getting the state referendum approved.

In Kentucky, state Rep. Jesse Crenshaw says that an appeal by labor groups, the NAACP and others prompted him to introduce a bill this year that sought to amend the state constitution and allow felons to vote after serving their time and paying all fines. The bill failed, but he plans to reintroduce it next year. "I see it as the right thing to do," says Crenshaw, a Democrat from Lexington. "After they've paid their debt, they should ... have the rights everyone else has."

A 2005 survey of New York state's county election boards found that about half did not know that felons had the right to vote while on probation or were asking for documents that were not required, says Catherine Weiss, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

"We don't know how many people were turned away by these two problems," says Weiss, whose center helped conduct the survey. "But there were potentially thousands." In May, New York election officials held a session reiterating the rules, says Lee Daghlian, spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections.

Idarraga admits that voting was not the first thing on his mind when he was released from prison in June 2004. "You have to establish yourself," he says. "Right after that, I knew education and voting and being responsible to the community were extremely pressing issues for myself."

Voting restrictions in each state

States that prevent felons from voting while in prison or on probation or parole. For felons who have completed probation and parole, some states revoke the right to vote permanently, and others revoke it for certain types of offenders or for a period of time.

In prison

On probation

On parole

STATE: All Partial
Ala. X X X   X
Alaska X X X    
Ariz. X X X   X
Ark. X X X    
Calif. X X      
Colo. X X      
Conn. X X      
Del. X X X   X
D.C. X        
Fla. X X X X  
Ga. X X X    
Hawaii X        
Idaho X X X    
Ill. X        
Ind. X        
Iowa X X X    
Kan. X X X    
Ky. X X X X  
La. X X X    
Md. X X X   X
Mass. X        
Mich. X        
Minn. X X X    
Miss. X X X   X
Mo. X X X    
Mont. X        
Neb. X X X   X
Nev. X X X   X
N.H. X        
N.J. X X X    
N.M. X X X    
N.Y. X X      
N.C. X X X    
N.D. X        
Ohio X        
Okla. X X X    
Ore. X        
Pa. X        
R.I. X X X    
S.C. X X X    
S.D. X X      
Tenn. X X X   X
Texas X X X    
Utah X        
Va. X X X X  
Wash. X X X    
W.Va. X X X    
Wis. X X X    
Wyo. X X X   X
Total 49 31 36 3 9
Sources: The Sentencing Project and the Right to Vote Campaign

For the latest drug war news, visit our friends and allies below

We are careful not to duplicate the efforts of other organizations, and as a grassroots coalition of prisoners and social reformers, our resources (time and money) are limited. The vast expertise and scope of the various drug reform organizations will enable you to stay informed on the ever-changing, many-faceted aspects of the movement. Our colleagues in reform also give the latest drug war news. Please check their websites often.

The Drug Policy Alliance
Drug Reform Coordination Network
Drug Sense and The Media Awareness Project

Working to end drug war injustice

Meet the People Behind The U.S. Sentencing Guidelines

Questions or problems? Contact