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State passes bill restoring voting rights to Washington felons directly after prison

(Ted, Flickr)

The Washington Legislature passed a bill this week that will restore voting rights to felons directly after they leave prison.

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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.

Simmons made history in 2020 after becoming the first former inmate elected to the Washington Legislature. She sees this bill as crucial to helping people reintegrate back 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.”

Prior to HB 1078’s passage, former felons could only regain their right to vote after completing their probation. Newly-restored voting rights to felons were also able be revoked if someone missed a payment on expenses incurred as part of their sentencing, including restitution payments to victims and their families.

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Republicans who opposed the bill argued that completing probation and fulfilling “legal financial obligations” are all part of a convicted felon fully paying back their debt to society.

“Beyond voting rights, first comes responsibility,” Republican Rep. Jenny Graham said during deliberations in the state House in late February. “When somebody makes a decision to harm or kill another individual, there is accountability that is due.”

Supporters countered that by pointing to data that indicates restored voting rights for felons can actually reduce the rate of recidivism and, by extension, crime rates as well.

The bill passed the state House along party lines in February by a 57 to 41 margin. It passed the state Senate on Wednesday 27-22, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee.

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