Skip Navigation
Court Case Tracker

Madison v. Washington

This case challenges a Washington State law preventing people with felony convictions who cannot pay their legal financial obligations from regaining their right to vote.

Published: July 26, 2007

Madison v. Washington
Voting After Criminal Conviction

The Brennan Center filed an amicus brief in Madison v. Washington, a case challenging a state law that prevents people with felony convictions who cannot pay their legal financial obligations from regaining their right to vote. The Center filed the brief with the Washington Supreme Court in support of plaintiffs/respondents and on behalf of itself, several civil rights organizations and three Washington minority bar associations.

Madison v. Washington challenges the provision of Washington’s felony disenfranchisement statute which conditions the restoration of voting rights on a person’s full payment of all court-ordered fees, fines, and restitution associated with a felony conviction (called legal financial obligations or “LFOs").  Plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU of Washington, contend that the state’s law illegally conditions the right to vote on a person’s ability to pay and therefore violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and the privileges and immunities clause of the Washington constitution. 

In effect, the challenged provision leads to the permanent disenfranchisement of people who are unable to pay off their LFOs.  For instance, plaintiff Beverly DuBois is unable to work due to a permanent disability and now lives on food stamps and monthly disability payments.  On her fixed income, Ms. Dubois cannot afford monthly payments sufficient to cover even the interest that accrues on her LFOs, so that her total debt continues to increase even as she makes the required payments.  Under Washington’s system, individuals like Ms. DuBois will never regain their right to vote.

In March 2006, the King County Superior Court of Washington struck down the provision which conditions the right to vote on the payment of LFOs.  The state appealed the decision, and the case was heard by the Washington Supreme Court on June 27, 2006.

The Brennan Center brief argues that Washington’s felony disenfranchisement law is one of the harshest in the nation, and thus in the world.  The brief reviews national and international laws and criminal disenfranchisement rates, summarizes the history of racial discrimination that taints the practice in this country, reveals the law’s disparate impact on the state’s minority communities, and argues that wealth qualifications for voting are unconstitutional.

Press Center






Amicus Briefs