The Washington State Supreme Court ruled yesterday that felons who haven’t paid their fines and court costs aren’t entitled to vote, the Seattle Times reports. For 16 months they could, and now the state has no way of knowing how many might be on the rolls or how to keep them from casting ballots. As of now, the only felons the state can accurately track – and keep off the voter rolls – are those still in custody of the Department of Corrections. Felons challenged the law that says they have to complete terms of their sentences, including legal financial obligations, before being able to vote. They argued that violated state and federal constitutional rights because it denies them the right to vote based on wealth.
Washington is one of eight states that prohibit felons from voting until they make full restitution, says the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which backed the felons’ challenge. Writing for the court, Justice Mary Fairhurst said it’s true the framers were concerned with “undue political influence exercised by those with large concentrations of wealth” and “avoiding favoritism toward the wealthy.” But Washington’s felon-disenfranchisement law doesn’t conflict with that, she wrote. Beverly Dubois, 51, one of the plaintiffs, called it an “unfair law.” She served nine months for growing marijuana and was released in 2003 but has been unable to pay off her debt. “I agreed as part of my release that I could pay $10 a month, which is all I can afford,” said Dubois, who lives on $600 a month in disability payments. She’s been unable to pay off the full amount and the interest keeps adding up.