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Eye On Olympia

Darneille takes another run at broadening felons’ rights to vote upon release from prison…

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that even after felons are released from prison, the state can bar them from voting until they pay off all their court-ordered fines and fees.

For poor people with big bills and few options for employment, this can effectively mean a lifetime loss of the right to vote.

State Rep. Jeannie Darneille wants to change the law. Getting out of prison and off probation, she says, should be enough to restore a person’s right to vote.

“It’s not real freedom if you’re excluded from any say in decisions that govern your life,” she said in a press reelase. “Basing anyone’s voting right on how quickly they can pay a financial debt is unfair and un-American.”

The bill is HB 1517.

Darneille, a Tacoma Democrat, has pushed similar bills for the past eight years. But her colleagues were reluctant to endorse earlier plans that would have allowed voting by people still on probation. Among those backing the new version: Secretary of State Sam Reed, a Republican.

In July 2007, the state’s high court upheld the law banning voting until felons have completed all the terms of their sentences, including payments.

“Convicted felons…no longer possess that fundamental right as a direct result of their decisions to commit a felony,” wrote Justice Mary Fairhurst. In a dissent, Justice Tom Chambers blasted the law, saying it restricts voting “to those rich enough to buy it.”

Fellow dissenter Gerry Alexander, the state’s longtime chief justice, said it’s wrong to require people who’ve served their time to “pay to play” and vote.

Among the plaintiffs in that case: Beverly DuBois, convicted in Stevens County of growing and delivering marijuana in 2002.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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