by David Ammons | January 6th, 2010
Attorney General Rob McKenna and Secretary of State Sam Reed of Washington will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the state’s appeal of the Tuesday’s federal court ruling that overturned the state’s longstanding practice of not allowing felons to vote while in prison or on community supervision. Governor Gregoire, herself a former attorney general, says she strongly supports the move.
The state will also quickly ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to put its ruling on hold while the state seeks a hearing from the high court. The appeals court ruled on Tuesday that Washington’s criminal justice system discriminates against minorities and that the automatic revocation of convicted felons’ voting rights thus hits them disproportionately.
Both Reed and McKenna said the decision is flawed, both in its conclusions about the criminal justice system and in its application of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Washington has had a felon voter ban since territorial days, and 47 other states have similar laws, McKenna told a joint news conference. Reed said the ban is an appropriate sanction whenever a criminal violates the rights of fellow citizens by committing a felony.
If Washington’s ban on felon voting is lifted, it could allow thousands of inmates and parolees to register to vote while under Department of Corrections custody. About 18,000 people are incarcerated and another 29,000 are currently on community supervision. Last year, the Legislature approved restoration of voting rights for ex-cons who complete their prison sentences and community supervision. Previously, they also had to pay off court costs and restitution.
McKenna said the state has until mid-April to file its paperwork with the Supreme Court and that it would be several months until the state learns if the court will take the case. If review is accepted, it probably would be argued in the fall term. In the meantime, Reed and McKenna said, it is important to maintain the status quo and not let criminals vote. Some locales have springtime elections and the state has a big primary in August, including the race for U.S. Senate and an open congressional seat.