As a black man with a past felony conviction, Michael Carter of Seattle will defy the odds when he casts his vote for president Tuesday, reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. With the aid of a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union, Carter, 43, proved to a judge that he had paid off $615.30 in court fees left from a 1987 assault conviction — a fight over a racial slur he says he should have walked away from.
Few former convicts have the financial resources or bureaucratic know-how to regain their voting rights. Under Washington’s disenfranchisement laws, about 159,000 felons — about 3.5 percent of the state’s voting age population — can’t vote, according to The Sentencing Project, a criminal-justice research group based in Washington, D.C. Washington State’s voting restrictions have hit the black community the hardest, disenfranchising about 14 percent of the black voting-age population. One in every four black males in Washington cannot vote, a rate of disenfranchisement rivaling Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. State corrections data show that between 1988 and 2004, there were 70,000 cases in which felons completed all the conditions of their sentences and had their civil rights — defined as the right to vote and serve on a jury — restored. During that same period, another 200,000 felony cases were terminated without those rights being restored because the felons failed to meet some condition of their sentences, such as their court debts or community service requirements.