Disenfranchisement in Washington
On April 7, 2021, Gov. Inslee signed a law that will automatically restore voting rights upon release from prison when it goes into effect in January 2022. That law will restore voting rights to an estimated 20,000 people. Until that law becomes effective, Washington prohibits people with felony convictions from voting while they are in prison or on probation or parole.
On April 7, 2021, Gov. Inslee signed into law HB 1078, which will automatically restore voting rights to people on community supervision. The bipartisan legislation was passed by the Washington State House of Representatives in February and the Senate in March. The House bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Tarra Simmons, is the state's first formerly incarcerated person to be elected to the legislature.
The Brennan Center worked with a coalition of Washington-based organizations to secure the bill’s passage and return the right to vote to over 20,000 people. The Brennan Center provided written testimony in support of the bill in both the House and the Senate.
This was the third consecutive year the legislature had considered the policy.
In 2020, legislators introduced HB 2292/SB 6228, which would automatically restore voting rights to people on community supervision. On January 22, 2020, a public hearing before the Senate Committee on State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections was held on SB 6228 and the Brennan Center provided written testimony in support. SB 6228 passed out of committee on January 24, 2020, but never received a vote on the floor.
In 2019, legislators introduced SB 5076/HB 1924 which would restore voting rights to people on community supervision (probation and parole), and SB 5207, which would require the Department of Corrections to provide each person released from prison with written notice of their voting rights and a voter registration form. The Brennan Center provided written testimony in support of SB 5076 and SB 5207. SB 5207 passed in both the House and the Senate, and was signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee on April 17, 2019.
In 2009, the Brennan Center worked with the ACLU of Washington in support of H.B 1517 to eliminate LFOs as a condition of restoration of civil rights. HB 1517 passed the House and Senate in April 2009 and Governor Christine 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.
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’s law that conditioned the restoration of voting rights on a person’s payment of all LFOs. The King County Superior Court of Washington struck down the provision which conditioned the right to vote on the payment of LFOs; however, the Washington Supreme Court ultimately upheld the law on appeal.
When the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund brought Farrakhan v. Gregoire, asserting that Washington’s felony disenfranchisement law denied the right to vote on account of race in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”), the Brennan Center filed four amicus briefs. On January 5, 2010, the Ninth Circuit held that the law violated Section 2 of the VRA. But upon en banc rehearing, the Ninth Circuit determined the law did not violate the VRA because there was no evidence of initial discrimination in the state’s criminal justice system.
Brennan Center Materials
- Brennan Center Statement: WA Governor Signs Bill to Restore Voting Rights to People on Probation and Parole (April 7, 2021)
- Written Testimony of Sean Morales-Doyle to the Washington Senate State Government & Elections Committee Concerning House Bill 1078 (March 10, 2021)
- Brennan Center Statement on Washington State House Voting to Restore Voting Rights to People on Probation and Parole (February 24, 2021)
- Written Testimony of Sean Morales-Doyle to the Washington House State Government & Tribal Relations Committee Concerning House Bill 1078 (January 14, 2021)
- Written Submission of Sean Morales-Doyle to the Washington Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee Concerning Senate Bill 6288 (January 23, 2020)
- Written Submission of Sean Morales-Doyle to the Washington Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee at the Work Session Concerning Washington’s Criminal Disenfranchisement Law (October 22, 2019)
- Written Testimony of Sean Morales-Doyle Submitted to the Washington Senate State Government, Tribal Relations & Elections Committee Concerning Senate Bills 5076 (proposed substitute) & 5207 (January 30, 2019)
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 Washington, please contact Stuart Baum, at firstname.lastname@example.org.