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9th Circuit throws out Wash. ban on felon voting

by David Ammons | January 5th, 2010

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out Washington’s longstanding ban on voting by felons.

The surprise 2-1 ruling comes in a case brought in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington almost 14 years ago by Muhammad Shabazz Farrakhan and three other black inmates, and by a Native American and a Latino inmate.  The inmates said minorities are disproportionately prosecuted and sentenced to prison, and that their automatic disenfranchisement violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

voterballot2The Appeals bench concurred with the inmates that the state’s criminal justice system is “infected” with racial discrimination and that the challengers don’t have to prove that that it is intentional or racially motivated discrimination.  The court held that the VRA, adopted in 1965 for the purpose of eliminating the country of racial discrimination in voting, thus does not permit disenfranchising voters who are behind bars. The judges also said it is irrelevant that the state Legislature last year approved a new law that takes away a felon’s voting rights only while in the direct custody of the Department of Corrections. Previously, voting rights were restored only after restitution and other costs were repaid, a matter of years for some ex-cons.

Three other circuits, the First, Second and Eleventh, have reached the opposite conclusion about felon voting. State Elections Director Nick Handy said the conflicting opinions makes it very likely that the U.S. Supreme Court will be asked to take the Farrakhan case on appeal. The state Attorney General also could ask the full 9th Circuit to hear the case, hoping for a different outcome. The case has bounced from the district to the appeals court several times during its unusually long history.Secretary of State Sam Reed, a co-defendant in the case, said he was surprised by the ruling, and continues to support the existing law, and hopes that further appeal will uphold the policy. The state has a strong and clear interest in fighting racial discrimination and fair voting laws, but that the loss of voting rights is an appropriate sanction for society to demand of felons while they are incarcerated or on community supervision. Most states have this policy, he notes.

5 Responses to “9th Circuit throws out Wash. ban on felon voting”

  1. Cynthia Sarvis says:

    I think it is about time just cause you are a felon should not take that right away when u are handed a sentence weather or not it is jail or fine it and or both you do your time then your done but Washington take it a step further and adding more punishment that takes it to far cause the fines a lone can take five plus years even longer to pay off with another added thing interest so it is like being punished 3to5 times anyway we have the right to vote for what we think think would help this country and or state let us make a decision it well help us respect the fact that we can feel worth something as far as what happens with our country i mean a lot of people just get off track between one day one year or up to 5 or 10 or15 years later get back on board with help others and the community better it self something to be proud of what we can do just like the saying go’s {It’s never to late to start over} or{ Better late than never at all} { I LOVE MY COUNTRYAND ONLY WONT THE BEST FOR IT TO}……..

  2. Cynthia Sarvis says:

    is my reply to long or i am just not worth responeing to be cause i am a felon???????

  3. Leone Reinbold says:

    This is amazing news! We are a democracy, after all, and every citizen should have the right to vote. Voting is what makes us American and we should no let our desires to punish get in the way of upholding what makes this country great.

  4. The Click says:

    It’s rather entertaining to see what the 9th circuit has decided, knowing that the likelihood of reversal on appeal to the Supremes is high. It’s hard to determine whether the justices on the 9th either can’t or won’t figure out how to render decisions consistent with the law of the land (as determined by the Supreme Ct).

  5. Everett Homeowner says:

    “…minorities are disproportionately prosecuted and sentenced to prison…”

    Could this be because these individuals are committing a disproportionate number of felonies? I’m NOT saying that, because of their skin color, they’re predisposed to commit a higher proportion of felonies… statistics are not bigoted.

    Regardless of a felon’s heritage, I don’t see what’s wrong with disallowing them from voting while they are incarcerated. If an individual commits a serious crime, that person I cannot trust that person to vote conscientiously. After that person serves his/her time, and DEMONSTRATES that he/she is a good citizen, he/she can petition to restore his/her vote. This concept is not unlike a convict petioning for parole,

    The 9th Circuit Court is dead wrong on this one.

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