Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Washington

Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Washington

April 20, 2018

Current Felony Disenfranchisement Law

Washington law restores the right to vote for people with felony convictions after the completion of their sentence, including prison, parole, and probation.  On May 4, 2009 Governor Gregoire signed a bill eliminating the requirement that people pay all fees, fines, and restitution before being having the right to vote restored.

Advocacy Against LFOs

The Brennan Center was involved in numerous efforts to change Washington's voting rights laws on the road to this policy.  The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in Madison v. Washington, where plaintiffs represented by the ACLU of Washington challenged the state law prohibiting restoration of voting rights until all legal financial obligations (LFOs) have been paid.  In March 2006, the King County Superior Court of Washington ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, and struck down the provision which conditions the right to vote on the payment of LFOs. However, on appeal the Washington Supreme Court upheld the law and overruled the decision on June 27, 2006.

The Brennan Center also worked with the ACLU of Washington in support of legislation to eliminate LFOs as a condition of restoration of civil rights. H.B 1517 allowed individuals previously convicted of a felony to regain the right to vote upon completion of sentence, including prison, parole and probation, without requiring payment.  H.B. 1517 passed the Washington State House and Senate in April 2009 and Governor Gregoire signed the bill on May 4, 2009. The Brennan Center, the American Probation and Parole Association and the National Black Police Association all wrote to the Governor in support of the legislation.

Further Action Challenging Felony Disenfranchisement

When the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund brought Farrakhan v. Gregoire, asserting that Washington’s felony disenfranchisement laws were racially discriminatory and violated the Voting Rights Act, the Brennan Center filed three amicus briefs.  In a January 5th, 2010 decision, the Ninth Circuit held 2-1 that Washington’s constitutional provision on felony disenfranchisement violated Section 2 of the VRA.  But upon en banc rehearing, on October 7, 2010, the Ninth Circuit found the state’s felony disenfranchisement did not violate the VRA.

Brennan Center Publications

  • Restoring the Right to Vote, Erika Wood (2009)
    • The Brennan Center’s policy proposal for restoring voting rights for citizens with past criminal convictions.
  • My First Vote (2009)
    • Testimonials of individuals who regained their voting rights after being disenfranchised because of past criminal convictions.
  • De Facto Disenfranchisement, Erika Wood & Rachel Bloom (2008)
    • A report on how complex laws, poorly informed officials, and misinformation lead to the de facto disenfranchisement of citizens with past criminal convictions who are eligible to vote.
  • Racism & Felony Disenfranchisement: An Intertwined History, Erin Kelley (2017)
    • A piece examining the historical roots of criminal disenfranchisement laws that today strip voting rights from millions of U.S. citizens.

For more information about the Brennan Center’s work on Restoring Voting Rights in New York, please contact Makeda Yohannes, at makeda.yohannes@nyu.edu.