Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Washington

Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Washington

August 20, 2008

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, probation and the full payment of all fees, fines and restitution.  Persons with felony convictions are also required to obtain a "Certificate of Discharge" in order to be restored the right to vote. 

On May 4, 2009 Governor Gregorie signed a bill that eliminates the requirement that people pay all fees, fines, and restitution before being given the right to vote. The bill goes into effect on July 26. View the press release here

Litigation

The Brennan Center for Justice has been involved in numerous efforts to change Washington's laws on voting rights for people with criminal conviction.  The Brennan Center filed three amicus briefs in Farrakhan v. Gregoire in support of the plaintiff's assertion that felony disenfranchisement laws in Washington were racially discriminatory and violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On Jan. 5, 2010, the Ninth Circuit, in a 2-1 decision, reversed the District Court's decision on remand, claiming that Washington's constitutional provision regarding felony disenfranchisement is in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

More recently, the Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in Madison v. Washington which challanged the law that prohibit restoration of voting rights until all legal financial obligations have been paid.  The King County Superior Court of Washington ruled in favor of the plantiffs, which were represented by the ACLU of Washington and struck down the provision which conditions the right to vote on the payment of LFOs. However, the state appealed the decision and the Washington Supreme Court on June 27, 2006 upheld the law therby overruling the Kings County Superior Court decision.

Legislative Advocacy

With unfavorable decisions from the courts, the Brennan Center has turned its efforts to assisting a broad coalition of Washington organizations, in legislative advocacy.  

2009. The Brennan Center has been working with the ACLU of Washington in support of legislation that would eliminate legal financial obligations as a condition of restoration of civil rights. H.B 1517 and S.B 5534 would allow individuals previously convicted of a felony to be restored the right to vote upon completion of sentence, including prison, parole and probation. The bill was introduced in January of 2009, and public hearings were held in both the House and the Senate.  Reverand Jimmie James, Executive Director of the Holistic Oppurtunities for Personal Empowerment, testified before the House in support of the legislation.

H.B. 1517 passed the Washington State House and Senate in April 2009 and Governor Gregorie 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.

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.