MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Bill to restore voting rights of Washington felons directly after prison passes state House

Feb 25, 2021, 12:14 PM | Updated: 3:00 pm

A bill that would restore the voting rights of Washington’s convicted felons after they leave prison passed through the state House on Wednesday evening.

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Currently, Washington is one of 18 states that allows a convicted felon to regain their right to vote only after they have completed their probation, even though they are no longer serving a sentence behind bars. Newly-restored voting rights to felons can also be revoked if someone misses a payment on expenses incurred as part of their sentencing, including restitution payments to victims and their families.

HB 1078, sponsored by Rep. Tarra Simmons, would make it so that a former felon would be eligible to vote the moment they are no longer incarcerated, and would retain that right regardless of whether or not they can pay off post-incarceration expenses.

Rep. Simmons — who made history in 2020 after becoming the first former inmate elected to the Washington Legislature — believes that this proposal is integral in helping people reintegrate into society after prison.

“My being here today as a state legislator is directly tied to the ability several years ago to successfully reenter the community after incarceration and become a voter again,” she said. “When someone is trying to rebuild their life and feel like they are a real part of their community, it’s just common sense that we should give them the kinds of support that we can.”

Co-sponsor Rep. Roger Goodman also pointed to data that indicates restored voting rights for felons can actually reduce the rate of recidivism, and by extension, crime rates as well.

“This bill, according to the research, demonstrates very clearly that it will reduce victims of crimes — those who are in the community having served their time are already in the community,” Rep. Goodman testified Wednesday. “And if they are given the right to vote, they have a stake in the community, and the research clearly shows they will commit fewer crimes.”

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House Republicans voiced their opposition the proposal before Wednesday’s vote in the state House, arguing that repaying a debt to society expands beyond time spent in prison.

“Service to the state involves several elements,” Rep. Jim Walsh said. “It involves incarceration, but it also involves other things, and one of the other elements of that compensation are what we call legal, financial obligations, or LFOs. Repaying LFOs is a critical part of a person’s journey back into mainstream society, and it’s important that we keep the repayment of those LFOs on track with the other elements of returning to society. ”

“Beyond voting rights, first comes responsibility,” Rep. Jenny Graham added. “When somebody makes a decision to harm or kill another individual, there is accountability that is due. And I beg the members of this body to consider that there has to be balance with this.”

Rep. Simmons’ bill ended up passing the state House along party lines Wednesday by a 57 to 41 margin. It will next head to the state Senate for further consideration.

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