A federal appeals court has upheld Washington state’s ban on voting by prison inmates in a case that challenged the disproportionate effect it has on minority voters, the Associated Press reports. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th U.S. Circuit ruled in January that Washington’s inmates should be allowed to vote. That decision was expected to help efforts to expand voting to inmates; only Maine and Vermont allow those behind bars to cast ballots.
An 11-judge panel reconsidered the case and unanimously upheld Washington’s ban, which dates to 1866, before statehood. “This ruling affirms the rights of states to withhold the right to vote from those who’ve committed the most serious crimes against society” Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said. The judges said that to challenge the ban under the Voting Rights Act, inmates would have to demonstrate intentional discrimination in the state’s criminal-justice system – not just a disparity in the racial makeup of the prison population. Washington inmates made no such showing, they said. “Felon-disenfranchisement laws have a long history in the United States,” the court said. “These laws predate the Jim Crow era and, with a few notable exceptions, have not been adopted based on racial considerations.”