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Washington State Supreme Court Upholds Law that Imposes Wealth Qualifications on the Right to Vote

July 26, 2007

Immediate Release
July 26, 2007

Mike Webb, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–998–6746
Erika Wood, Brennan Center for Justice, 212–992–8638

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law issued the following statement in response to the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in Madison v. Washington.  The ruling concluded that a state law that prevents people with felony convictions from regaining the right to vote solely because they are unable to pay the fees and fines associated with their conviction was constitutional.  The statement may be attributed to Erika Wood, who directs the Right To Vote Project at the Brennan Center.

“Washington is one of only eight states that requires full payment of fees and fines before a persons right to vote can be restored.  The system results in the permanent disenfranchisement of many low income individuals and it is now up to the Washington State legislature to fix this injustice.

“Put simply, Washington’s law and others like it create a poll tax for people who have served their time and are living, working and paying taxes in their communities.  Whatever form they take, wealth qualifications are simply incompatible with democracy.

The law upheld by the Supreme Court presents two fundamental problems: the unfairness of making wealth a condition of voting, and the enormous practical problems of administering the current system.  We will continue to work with local advocates and Washington lawmakers to dismantle this last remnant of the poll tax.”

The Brennan Center filed a friend of the court brief along with several civil rights organizations, and three Washington minority bar associations.  A copy of the Center’s brief, as well more information about the case, is available at Madison v. Washington.