In many states, anyone convicted of a felony ("Crimes which are commonly considered to be felonies include, but are not limited to: aggravated assault, arson, burglary, murder, and rape" --source.) must wait until they have completed their prison sentence, parole and probation before they can return to a voting booth. Rhode Island (among a few other states) is looking to change that law and make it so felons can vote as soon as their prison sentence is completed...
"Under current Rhode Island law, convicted felons can't vote until they have completed parole and probation, a date 30 years away for Idarraga. So he is speaking out to support a state ballot initiative in November that would allow felons to vote after they leave prison.
Its passage would "send a message that we're willing to embrace you, to afford second chances, instead of every step along the way putting up roadblocks," he says.
Rhode Island is one of several states where lawmakers and advocacy groups are working to change laws that deny many felons the right to vote." (source)
I guess if Howard Dean isn't successful in winning over the Pat Robertson crowd, they'll have the murderers and rapists to rely on...
"An estimated 5.3 million people cannot vote because of a felony conviction, says Ryan King, policy analyst for the Sentencing Project, a research group that favors changes in prison and sentencing rules. Thirty-six states deny that right to felons while they're on parole, and 31 of them also bar voting by felons on probation.
King and other advocates of changing those rules say the restrictions punish people who have served their time and disproportionately affect the poor and people of color. "In states where there's 20% to 30% of African-Americans who are prohibited from voting, that's a significant portion of the population not being represented by their state or federal legislators," King says." (source)
"Some lawmakers believe the restrictions should stay in place. "I don't believe we need to have a voting bloc that comes out of prison angry at the sheriff's department ... and angry at the prosecutor's office," says Tennessee state Rep. Gerald McCormick, a Chattanooga Republican. "I don't think it's right to have them on the same level as people who've paid their taxes and played by the rules."
See what the voting restrictions are in your state
Quite frankly, I have a hard time believing these are the kind of people that are running out to vote anyway...