Washington State’s Court Ruling Ensures Eligible Voters with Felony Convictions Can Vote

By Jorge Rivas Jan 06, 2010

Yesterday, a Federal Appeals Court in Washington held that the state’s law denying the vote to people with felony convictions is racially discriminatory and violates the Voting Rights Act. "This landmark ruling recognizes that racial discrimination in Washington’s criminal justice system has infected the State’s political process," said John Payto, Director-Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. "The result is that Black, Latino and Native America persons convicted of felonies in Washington are disproportionately denied the right to vote" he went on to say. Along with the Legal Assistance law clinic at Gonzaga Law School, the NAACP won the case by providing statistics that showed people of color in Washington are stopped, arrested and convicted in such disproportionate rates that the ban on voting by incarcerated felons is inherently discriminatory. The Seattle Times is reporting the research showed that in Washington:

"Blacks are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, despite the fact that the ratio of arrests for violent crime among blacks and whites is less than four-to-one. One result of that: 25 percent of black men in Washington are disenfranchised from voting."

The two appellate judges ruled that disparities in the state’s justice system “cannot be explained in race-neutral ways.” State Attorney General Rob McKenna plans on appealing the case — either back to a larger 9th Circuit panel, or directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. McKenna said if the ruling is upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court it would apply to all 48 states that ban voting by felons in prison or on supervision. Currently only two states — Vermont and Maine — allow prison inmates to vote. According to the Sentencing Project, nationally, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions.