For formerly incarcerated Americans, voting is the final step in re-joining society

November 4, 2008–Casimiro Torres, 41, joined millions of Americans today to vote in the general election.  Like many during this historic election, he is voting for the first time.  But unlike most new voters, Mr. Torres is formerly incarcerated.

State by State Voting Rights

Because Mr. Torres completed his entire sentence, under New York State law, his right to vote was restored; parolees are not eligible to vote in New York.  Throughout the country, voting rights vary for those who are imprisoned, paroled, and on probation.  There are only two states that grant inmates the right the vote: Maine and Vermont.  In Kentucky, former prisoners are permanently stripped of their right to vote.

For Abu Bilal Abdur-Rahman, 54, this election isn’t the first time he’s taking part in the process in some way.  As a child of the Civil Rights Movement, the Buffalo, New York native recalls accompanying his mother in 1968 to get others to vote.  Mr. Abdur-Rahman voted for the first time in the February 2008 primary election since his release from prison in 2006.  He says this election will probably be the most important one in his lifetime.

Abdur-Rahman on Voting & Change

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Riley’s Connection to Obama’s Message
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Gary Riley, 51, a former New York prisoner, voted for the first time in the 2004 general election.  While he believes that voting for the first time four years ago helped him in his process of re-joining society, he feels that his presidential choice for the 2008 election has inspired him to continue to give back to society.

Mr. Torres has also used the 2008 election to give back to society.  On the eve of Election Day, he joined his cast mates of “The Castle” at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City for “First Vote”, an event to honor people from every cross section of society who will vote for the first time.  “The Castle”, an Off-Broadway play, recounts the stories of the cast members’ incarceration and what voting means to them.  Of his four cast mates, Mr. Torres is the only one who will be voting in this general election, but that hasn’t stopped the rest of his cast mates from encouraging others to participate in the election.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Many of people interviewed here feel that not being able to vote because of one’s parolee status is a form of voter disenfranchisement. Do you agree and how has incarceration affected your voice or the voice of a family member as a citizen?

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Djenny Passe-Rodriguez attends the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She is a television and radio broadcast student with a focus on health and medicine reporting. She graduates in December, 2008. Some of her work can be seen on her blog.

About Djenny Passe Rodriguez