Friday, March 31, 2006


A bit of good news for the felons of Washington State

In the effort to imprison as many non-White citizens as possible,1 if for no other reason than to deprive them of their right to vote, the state of Washington has done an outstanding job. When it comes time to restore the reborn and rehabilitated felon's voting rights, Washington goes further than any other state to ensure that doesn't happen. And when you consider that it's in competition with Florida, a state where you don't even have to commit a crime to end up on the excluded felons list, that's saying something.2

In Washington, to restore your right to vote you must not only serve your sentence plus complete your probation and community service but you must also pay all court costs, effectively making poverty another reason for disenfranchisement.

Ralph Thomas writes,

In 2004, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state on behalf of three indigent felons who cannot afford to pay their court-ordered fines.

Now a state judge has struck down the law, citing the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The judge said,

It is well recognized that there is simply no rational relationship between the ability to pay and the exercise of constitutional rights.

A radical thought if there ever was one.

Naturally the State will appeal. If the statistic from 2002 still holds, the legislature may be facing up to 50,000 new voters.


1Presuming the State follows national patterns, about 1 in 5 of its prisoners is in for a drug offense. And of those, almost 50% are Black and 70% are Black or Hispanic. [back]

2Back in 2000 the Seattle Times was railing that—

The most disenfranchised adults in the United States are not, in fact, from Palm Beach County. They include the 2 million people in America's jails and prisons, and the millions more whose criminal records bar them from ever casting a vote.

But they were upset more by the rate of imprisonment than by the disenfranchisement. And Washington legislators didn't seem to get the message. [back]

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