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Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Washington

Washington’s lawmakers adopted legislation that restores voting rights to as many as 20,000 Washingtonians living in the community.

Last Updated: January 1, 2022
Published: April 20, 2018

Disen­fran­chise­ment in Wash­ing­ton

On April 7, 2021, Gov. Inslee signed a law that auto­mat­ic­ally restores voting rights upon release from prison, with the law going into effect on Janu­ary 1, 2022. That law restores voting rights to an estim­ated 20,000 people.

Legis­lat­ive Efforts

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.

Litig­a­tion

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 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 Derek Paul­hus, at paul­hus­d@bren­nan.law.nyu.edu.