Gene Johnson, Associated Press, March 25, 2021
Washington state lawmakers have voted to automatically restore voting rights to people who have been released from prison after committing felonies, even if they’re still on parole.
With the support of majority Democrats, the state Senate passed the measure 27-22 Wednesday night, following earlier approval by the House. It now heads to Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it.
The main sponsor was Democratic Rep. Tarra Simmons of Bremerton, who was incarcerated before becoming a lawyer.
Supporters called it a matter of racial justice, considering the disproportionate impact of the criminal justice system on people of color. There are more than 20,000 people who stand to have their voting rights restored under the legislation.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, citing Department of Corrections data, said Black and Indigenous people make up 16% of those on parole, though they make up just 6% of the state’s population.
Washington has been a leader in efforts to expand voting rights. It’s one of just five states with universal mail-in voting. It recently began allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, permitting people to register as late as Election Day and automatically registering people when they interact with state agencies.
Senate Republicans opposed the measure despite support from many places, including the state attorney general’s office, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, some victims’ rights advocates and Republican Rep. Jesse Young, who co-sponsored the bill.
Republican senators said former prisoners should complete their sentences — including parole — and show they can follow the law before they regain the right to vote. They offered amendments that would have exempted those convicted of child sex offenses or hate crimes involving firearms.