Friday, May 30, 2008

Prisoners Voting in Puerto Rico Democrat Primary

Democrats have long pushed to have prisoners vote. Who knew it was a reality in Puerto Rico?
Arturo Vazquez is locked up for assault and robbery, but he and hundreds of other prisoners may have a say in choosing the next president of the United States, casting early ballots Friday in Puerto Rico's key Democratic primary.

Along with only two U.S. states, this Spanish-speaking Caribbean territory lets
imprisoned felons vote. And Sunday's primary is hugely important: It may clinch the nomination for Sen. Barack Obama or buoy his rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Vazquez made no bones about his choice after he voted in one of several curtained cardboard booths erected in a lunchroom with steel tables.

It wasn't Clinton.

"No woman should ever be president of the United States. It ought to be a man," said the burly convict with dark, close-cropped hair and a gray prison jumpsuit. He told a reporter he marked an 'X' for Sen. Barack Obama on the ballot which he slipped into a cardboard box.

But some other inmates at Correctional Institute 501 in this San Juan suburb argued that it's time for a female president.

A dozen inmates interviewed by The Associated Press at the compound of white buildings surrounded by barbed wire said they were grateful for the opportunity to help nominate a future American president.

Elliot Dones, 32, serving a seven-year sentence for robbery, said he is excited that the United States is showing interest in what Puerto Ricans have to say.

"I feel great. I feel mostly that we matter to the United States,» said Dones, who voted for Clinton.

Omar Gonzalez, counting down a prison sentence for attempted murder, hopes Puerto Rico's economy is strong enough to give him a job when he is released -- and believes that will depend in part on policy decisions made in Washington and who wins the presidency.

"Health plans, education, jobs -- these are things I'm counting on when I get out," said the 29-year-old, who sports a cross tattoo on his right forearm, after voting for Obama. Gonzalez said television news reports on the Illinois senator influenced his vote. Other inmates said they followed the campaign in newspapers.

Yesenia Lociel, a corrections department spokeswoman, said 130 of the 448 medium and maximum-security inmates at the prison asked to vote -- a turnout percentage comparable to local primary elections. Inmates in other prisons across the island were also voting on Friday, two days before the general population votes.

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