The Rhode Island Board of Elections has reinstated the voting rights of two men who had them taken away last year. The men were found two decades ago to be not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. However, they now live in a psychiatric center and neither man had ever been released from mental care custody.
Rhode Island law says both convicted felons and those “lawfully adjudicated to be non compos mentis” — or sane — aren't allowed to vote. Lawyers for the men appealed for their right to ballot on the grounds that the finding of insanity applied only to “a brief period of time” and that “since it covers a brief period of time, it didn’t seem to persuade the Board of Elections that the men should lose their right to vote.” Let's remember that the "brief period of time" was long enough to let them escape being charged with murder, though they killed four people between them.
The subject of felons getting to vote came up when we were all watching Recount — the Florida felon list played heavily into the plot. Is the right to vote something that should be taken away permanently? Do we need a more nuanced system where those convicted of federal felonies could re-earn voting rights? Or should we be even more selective as to who gets to pick our leaders? Was Rhode Island right to reinstate the rights of the mentally ill men?