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Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Rhode Island

Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Rhode Island

Published: April 20, 2018

In Rhode Island, citizens have their right to vote restored upon their release from incar­cer­a­tion and return to the community. The people of Rhode Island enacted this policy in a consti­tu­tional amend­ment by popu­lar refer­en­dum in 2006, repla­cing the prior policy of disen­fran­chising citizens on parole and proba­tion.

Current Disen­fran­chise­ment Law

In Rhode Island, the right to vote is restored to all citizens living in their communit­ies regard­less of prior felony convic­tions. Until Novem­ber 2006, the Rhode Island Consti­tu­tion disen­fran­chised people with felony convic­tions while they were in prison or on parole or proba­tion. After a success­ful campaign led by a coali­tion of Rhode Island community groups and suppor­ted by the Bren­nan Center, Rhode Island voters approved an amend­ment to their state consti­tu­tion restor­ing voting rights to people with felony convic­tions upon release from prison.  Accord­ing to the Family Life Center, since the new law, 6,300 indi­vidu­als registered to vote in time for the Nov. 2008 elec­tion, and 3,001 indi­vidu­als voted in one or more of the three state-wide elec­tions in 2008.

In 2004, the Family Life Center under­took a study that showed the extent of disen­fran­chise­ment under the prior policy of disen­fran­chise­ment for parolees and proba­tion­ers. 15,500 Rhode Islanders were disen­fran­chised at the time, and 86% of those (more than 13,000) were living in the community on proba­tion or parole. Twenty percent of black men in the state were disen­fran­chised. The study helped to create momentum for change.

The Bren­nan Center was involved in several key steps on the road to this new policy

In 2005, at the open­ing of the legis­lat­ive session, the Bren­nan Center draf­ted a resol­u­tion to amend the consti­tu­tion to re-enfran­chise people imme­di­ately after incar­cer­a­tion. The legis­lature passed this resol­u­tion on June 28, 2005, and the people of Rhode Island approved the amend­ment by refer­en­dum in Novem­ber 2006. For a press release on that victory, click here.

In 2006, the Center draf­ted the compre­hens­ive compan­ion bill to imple­ment the consti­tu­tional amend­ment. That bill was passed by the Legis­lature in the 2006 session and became effect­ive upon passage of the refer­en­dum.

In August 2007, the Rhode Island Secret­ary of State issued regu­la­tions imple­ment­ing the Voting Rights and Restor­a­tion Act. For more inform­a­tion and mater­i­als about the Rhode Island victory see the Rhode Island Right to Vote Campaign website.

Bren­nan Center Public­a­tions

  • Restor­ing the Right to Vote, Erika Wood (2009)
    • The Bren­nan Center’s policy proposal for restor­ing voting rights for citizens with past crim­inal convic­tions.
  • My First Vote (2009)
    • Testi­mo­ni­als of indi­vidu­als who regained their voting rights after being disen­fran­chised because of past crim­inal convic­tions.
  • De Facto Disen­fran­chise­ment, Erika Wood & Rachel Bloom (2008)
    • A report on how complex laws, poorly informed offi­cials, and misin­form­a­tion lead to the de facto disen­fran­chise­ment of citizens with past crim­inal convic­tions who are eligible to vote.
  • Racism & Felony Disen­fran­chise­ment: An Inter­twined History, Erin Kelley (2017)
    • A piece examin­ing the histor­ical roots of crim­inal disen­fran­chise­ment laws that today strip voting rights from millions of U.S. citizens.

For more inform­a­tion about the Bren­nan Center’s work on Restor­ing Voting Rights in Rhode Island, please contact Derek Paul­hus, at paul­hus­d@bren­nan.law.nyu.edu.