I Voted Today: A Former Prisoner Fights Back
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In 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.
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 20 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 30 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.
Andres Idarraga is a Senior at Brown University and a spokesperson for the Rhode Island Right To Vote campaign.