Washington State Restores Voting Rights to Those on Probation and Parole

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Photo by Nate Hofer via Flickr

Washington state’s Senate on Wednesday night passed a bill to automatically restore voting rights for people who are on parole and probation, reports Axios.

The action comes after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) last Tuesday restored the voting rights of 69,000 former felons through executive action, against a wider push across the country to restrict voting rights.

The two moves are part of a growing movement to reverse policies that blocked formerly incarcerated individuals from exercising their basic democratic rights.

Before the measures passed in Washington and Virginia, 19 states banned convicted felons from voting while incarcerated and limited voting rights for specific periods during probation and parole. Eleven states remove voting rights indefinitely for some crimes or require a governor’s pardon to restore them, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Washington state legislation will go to the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee (D) to be signed into law, and essentially ensures that every Washington citizen who’s not incarcerated can vote.

Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of the Voting Rights and Elections Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law, said in a statement that the move was “a step towards racial justice in voting.

This bill was sponsored by state Rep. Tarra Simmons (D) and is considered especially personal for her, a lawyer and civil rights activist who was convicted on drug possession charges a decade ago and served 30 months in prison while battling addiction, according to The Center Square.

Editor’s Note: For a March 4, 2021  video interview with Rep. Simmons, please see the report from the 16th annual John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Symposium on Crime in America.

“When an individual does come home after incarceration, they will face many barriers,” Simmons said. “The punishment never seems to end, and I can tell you that firsthand. There may be some rational basis of public safety risk to justify some of those barriers. However, restoring a person’s right to vote has no public safety risk associated with it.”

Washington is home to 12 prisons and 16,000 prisoners statewide.

As of 2021, only Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia protect the right to vote at all times.  In 18 states—which includes Oregon, Ohio, Colorado, and California—voting rights are restricted during imprisonment and restored during parole.

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