Washington State Is Reviewing Granting Released Prisoners the Automatic Right to Vote

Washington State Is Reviewing Granting Released Prisoners the Automatic Right to VoteDefendants who are convicted of crimes in Washington may be imprisoned and required to pay large fines. Even when they are released from prison, their criminal record may haunt them. It may be hard to own a gun, to find employment, and to rent an apartment. In Washington, felons also lose the right to vote when they are convicted.

Currently, felons can’t vote from jail. They generally can vote when they are released but there are restrictions:

  • The felon normally has to request the right to vote
  • The right to vote won’t be restored if the person convicted of a felony violates their parole or the terms of a community custody order.
  • The right to vote won’t be restored if the felon fails to pay their financial legal obligations. Many people who are released can’t afford to pay the fines that are imposed when they are sentenced.

According to The Crime Report, a bill was introduced in Washington in January, 2021, that would automatically give released prisoners the right to vote as soon as they are released from jail.

The bill is sponsored by a former prison inmate – the first to hold elected office in Washington. Representative Tarra Simmons, from Bremerton, introduced the legislation because of the complexity and restrictions of the current law. In addition, she states that there are “social and racial injustices inherent” in the current law. The Crime Report states that 20 other states have approved automatic voting rights on release.

The Daily Chronicle reported that Ms. Simmons stated, “This is really about reentry. It’s not about the punishment. The punishment has been taken into consideration during the prosecution.” Ms. Simmons earned her law degree after serving a 20-month sentence for possession and sale of drugs and the unlawful possession of a firearm. She was a former nurse. She successfully challenged the state bar associations’ denial of her right to practice law.

The law is being co-sponsored by a Republican, Rep. Jesse Young who understands the need for people to have a “second chance.” Ms. Simmons is a Democrat. Several representatives stated concerns that the victims of the crimes and their families are entitled to restitution from some crimes.

The policy director for the Washington State Office of the Attorney General said, “Not addressing the felony disenfranchisement will continue to exacerbate the real systemic consequences that already exist for African-Americans and other communities of color by disproportionately limiting their right to vote.”

At Philbrook Law Office, our Vancouver, WA criminal defense lawyers understand how traumatic being charged with any crime is. We fight aggressively to suppress illegally obtained evidence, to contest improper legal motions by the prosecution, and to obtain dismissals and jury acquittals. We also negotiate plea bargains to reduce criminal charges when advisable. Our lawyers also represent defendants at any sentencing hearings. To discuss all parts of your criminal case, call our offices in Vancouver or Battle Ground, WA at 360-695-3309 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.