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Andres Idarraga is a 29-year-old junior at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. He has become a prominent advocate for restoring the right to vote to thousands disenfranchised in Rhode Island because of a felony conviction.
But Andres’ commitment to the cause is deeply personal. Andres himself could not vote because of a felony conviction received when he was 20 years old. As of November 2006, with the passing of a ballot referendum, voters helped decide current Rhode Island law which now allows individuals with felony convictions to vote immediately after being released from prison. Prior to that, they could not vote until they had completed parole and probation. “I went to register to vote the other day,” Andres recalled. “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.’
Andres views the right to vote as a significant and crucial aspect to rebuilding his life and to contributing to his community.
After spending six and a half years in prison, Andres has made strides on the path to making a difference. Since his release in June of 2004, Andres has become a full-time student at Brown University studying comparative literature and economics while maintaining full time employment. “I knew education and voting and being responsible to the community were extremely pressing issues for myself,” Andres told USA Today.
Andres continuously spoke out on the personal and political consequences of felon disenfranchisement and worked alongside several voting rights organizations in Rhode Island to support the November 2006 state ballot initiative that restored the right to vote to individuals immediately after they leave prison.
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 Andres, 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. 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.”
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