§ 17-9.2-2. Findings and purpose.
(a) Findings. The legislature finds that:
(1) Voting is both a fundamental right and a civic duty. Restoring the right to vote strengthens our democracy by increasing voter participation and helps people who have completed their incarceration to reintegrate into society. Voting is an essential part of reassuming the duties of full citizenship.
(2) Rhode Island is the only state in New England that denies the vote to people convicted of felonies, not only while they are in prison, but also while they are living in the community under the supervision of parole or probation officials.
(3) As a result of this extended disfranchisement, Rhode Island deprives a greater proportion of its residents of voting rights than any other state in the region. More than fifteen thousand five hundred (15,500) Rhode Islanders have lost the right to vote because of a felony conviction. Of these, eighty-six percent (86%) are not in prison, they have either been released or their convictions did not result in actual incarceration. Rhode Island has the second highest rate of people on probation in the nation.
(4) Criminal disfranchisement in Rhode Island has a disproportionate impact on minority communities. The rate of disfranchisement of African American voters is more than six (6) times the statewide rate. Hispanics lose the vote at more than 2.5 times the statewide average. One in five (5) black men and one in eleven (11) Hispanic men are barred from voting in Rhode Island. By denying so many the right to vote, criminal disfranchisement laws dilute the political power of entire minority communities. Because these communities are concentrated in cities, the urban vote is also suppressed, with the rate of disfranchisement in urban areas 3.5 times the rate in the rest of the state.
(5) Extending disfranchisement beyond a person's term of incarceration complicates the process of restoring the right to vote. Under current law, a person may regain that right when released from incarceration if no parole follows, when discharged from parole, or when probation is completed. This system requires the involvement of many government agencies in the restoration process. This bill would simplify restoration by making people eligible to vote once they have served their time in prison, thereby concentrating in the department of corrections the responsibility for initiating restoration of voting rights. A streamlined restoration process conserves government resources and saves taxpayer dollars.
The purposes of this act are to strengthen democratic institutions by increasing participation in the voting process, to help people who have completed prison sentences to become productive members of society, and to streamline procedures for restoring their right to vote.
(P.L. 2006, ch. 366, § 1; P.L. 2006, ch. 476, § 1.)