Congratulations are due to 15,000 American citizens in Rhode Island, who yesterday couldn't have voted in the election if they'd wanted to, but now will have that right. Tuesday, voters in Rhode Island passed a constitutional amendment that restores voting rights to people who have been convicted of a felony, and who are now out of prison, but still on probation or parole. It was a close race with the referendum passing with just 51.5 percent of the vote. Of course, those who will benefit from the amendment couldn't weigh in on it at the polls.
In many states, former felons aren't allowed to vote, even after they're out of prison. The passing of the Rhode Island referendum represents the first time in U.S. history that voters have elected to expand the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated at the polls. "We've often been told that the public is tough on crime, and is not receptive to the needs of people in prison. I think that this is a statement from the voters of Rhode Island that they view voting and community integration, as an important component of public safety," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group. "This makes sense both from the point of democratic participation and encouraging people leaving prison to become connected with positive institutions in the community."