A Vote Restored

In 2006, the Brennan Center provided counsel to the Rhode Island Right To Vote campaign. Andres Idarraga was one of the primary spokespeople for the campaign, and he is one of 15,000 Rhode Islanders with a conviction in their past who had their right to vote restored...

March 4, 2008

Andres IdarragaIn 2006, the Brennan
Center for Justice provided counsel to
the Rhode Island
Right To Vote
campaign.  Andres Idarraga was
one of the primary spokespeople for the campaign, and he is one of 15,000 Rhode
Islanders with a conviction in their past who had their right to vote restored
when voters approved a ballot referendum in November 2006.  Andres is now a Senior at Brown University.  He voted for the first time today, and he
shares these thoughts. —Erika Wood

I
just voted!  For first time in my life, I stepped inside the polling place
and "completed the arrow" that selects the candidate I think would
best run our country.  It was a simple action that took only a few
minutes, but far too many years to achieve.

I
was sent to prison nine years ago when I was twenty years old.  When I was released six years later, I hit
the ground running—determined to give back to my community and become the
role model that I never had.  I got a job
and I was accepted into Brown
University.  But under Rhode Island's state constitution, I would have
to wait more than thirty years to be able to vote.  I couldn't wait that long.  So I joined the Rhode Island Right to Vote
campaign and began to work to change the law.

In
November 2006, my fellow Rhode Islanders were the first in the nation to go to
the polls and approve a ballot referendum to restore voting rights to people as
soon as they are released from prison. 
Today, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections hands everyone leaving
prison a voter registration form.  Today
was the first election in which 15,000 newly eligible Rhode Islanders were able
to cast their ballot, and I was one of them.

Before
voting this morning, I drove my eight-year old nephew to school.  My
nephew spent time with me as I worked on the Right to Vote campaign and he came
with me on the day I registered.  On the way to school, I asked him if he
knew that today was the day voting took place in Rhode Island.  He said he did and asked
me who I was voting for.  I told him I was still thinking through my options
and we talked about the various candidates. 
This was a conversation I relished.  Coming from a family in which
voting had rarely, if ever, been discussed, this was a new beginning.  I
hope we have similar conversations in the years to come. 

There
is something undeniably inspiring about this election.  The historical
significance of having a woman and an African American as viable candidates has
energized the voting public to a level I have never seen before.  At my
school, students have been tirelessly advocating for their respective
candidates.  At my barbershop, my barber proudly displays a picture of his
candidate on his mirror, a place usually reserved for sports figures or
entertainers.  This election is bringing out apathetic voters and first-time
voters, and making both groups feel invested in the future of their
country.  I am so proud to be one of them. 

As I walked out of the polling place, a local elementary school where
children were playing outside waiting for the school day to begin, I decided to
go back in.  I forgot to get an "I Voted" sticker, and, for many
reasons, I wanted to wear one today.