Felons get Voting Rights – WA Criminal System Unfairly Impacts Natives, other Minorities

On January 5, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with five minority inmates and struck down Washington State’s voting law that prevents felons from voting until they are released from corrections supervision (more severe than being released from jail).  The ruling basically means that all felons in the State have the right to vote, whether or not they are in jail or on parole or probation.

The lawsuit was filed by Native American, Black, and Latino inmates.  Clifton Briceno and Tim Schaaf are the Native American plaintiffs in the case.  Collectively, Blacks, Latinos and Native Americans represent only 12 percent of Washington’s overall population but comprise approximately 36 percent of the state’s incarcerated population.

The basis for the Court’s decision was that felony disenfranchisement (the loss of the right to vote) in Washington denies the right to vote on account of race.  Denial of the right to vote on the basis of race is a violation of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act.  In other words, the Court held that Washington’s felony voting law, combined with documented racial discrimination in Washington’s criminal justice system, results in discrimination in voting. 

The court found that, “the expert reports, which were not refuted by the State, provide compelling circumstantial evidence of discrimination in Washington’s criminal justice system.”

The State of Washington’s Attorney General, Robert McKenna, has said the State will immediately appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Farrakhan v Gregoire is here.

An ACLU report documenting widespread discrimination against felon’s voting rights is here

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