Politics Washington state 'automatically' restores voting rights to felons when they leave prison
Some states work to expand voting rights for people with felony convictions
Amid the push to enact restrictive voting legislation, lawmakers in some states are working to expand voting rights for people with felony convictions. After initially failing in 2020, Gov. Jay Inslee restored voting rights to more than 20,000 people with felony convictions who are out of prison, but still under community supervision.
Washington on Wednesday restored the voting rights of felons "automatically" when they depart prison, even if they are under probation or state supervision.
Gov. Jay InsleeHB 1078, allowing those with felony criminal convictions to head to the ballot box when they are "no longer incarcerated" in penitentiaries. The move could grant more than 20,000 felons the right to vote, the Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal reform group.
"This is a good day for democracy in Washington state," Inslee wrote in a tweet.
The billthe House by a 57-41 vote on Feb. 24 and passed the Senate by a 27-22 margin on March 24.
Voting rights: Democratic-led states eye expansion amid GOP push to restrict access
Virginia and New Jersey this week joined other Democratic-led states moving ahead with new laws that would expand voting access -- a stark contrast to the Republican rush in statehouses across the country to make voting more difficult. © Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images Voters fill out their ballots at an early voting center at the Mount Vernon Governmental Center on October 31, 2020 in Alexandria, Virginia. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which has tracked voting measures across the country, 843 bills that would expand voting access, largely offered by Democrats, have been introduced in 47 states.
Democratic state Rep. Tarra Simmons, who wasof assault in 2001 and drug charges in 2011, spearheaded the bill and said its passage is "a giant step for civil rights."
“Regaining the right to vote, after having lost so many things, meant more to me than most people could imagine,” Simmonsin a statement. “This might seem a small thing to some people, but it’s a giant step for civil rights and it’s one that will give others what it gave me: a belief that I mattered, that I was once again a member of society, and that my freedom was worth preserving at all costs.”
She continued: “This new law won’t affect community custody rules or relieve people of their responsibility to pay their legal financial obligations. It simply severs the tie between voting and those things that have nothing to do with voting. When you’re no longer in full custody of the Department of Corrections, you’ll be eligible to vote once more.”
What Georgia's new election law really does – 9 facts
The new law will offer some voters more opportunities for early voting, but it also puts some new restrictions on absentee voting.Democrats and voting rights groups were outraged by voter ID provisions and changes to mail voting that they believe will make more difficult for some minorities and poorer voters to cast a ballot. Within days, major corporations, including Georgia-based Coca-Cola and Delta, along with CBS News' parent company ViacomCBS, spoke out against the bill, and Major League Baseball pulled its All-Star Game out of Georgia a day after President Biden threw his support behind the idea.
Washington18 states where felons lose their voting rights only when physically behind bars. In 19 states, felons are barred from voting during their prison sentences and for a period of time while they're on parole. Eleven states ban voting for the group indefinitely, requiring other actions or a pardon from government officials to head to the ballot box.
Only the District of Columbia, Maine, and Vermont allow felons to vote from inside penitentiaries.
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Protecting the fundamental right of all Americans to have access to the voting booth .
It is time we once again protect access to the ballot, rather than continuing to erect barriers that seek to suppress the votes and voices of communities. Through this process, we can work together to pass fair, commonsense legislation that restores and protects the fundamental right of all Americans to have unfettered access to the voting booth.Butterfield represents North Carolina's 1st District and is chairman of the Committee on House Administration's Subcommittee on Elections.