Restoring voting rights, cleaner voting rolls
Legislation awaiting the signature of Gov. Chris Gregoire will restore voting rights to felons no longer under the supervision of the Washington Department of Corrections. Court-ordered financial obligations remain, but an outstanding debt will not preclude the right to vote.
Seattle Times editorial
VOTING is an elemental right in a democracy, and restoration of that right is a signal that felons leaving the criminal-justice system are rejoining society and resuming full citizenship.
A smart piece of legislation that not only restores voting rights for persons convicted of felonies, but also improves tracking of their voter registration, is on the way to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature.
House Bill 1517 was guided by Rep. Jeannie Darneille, D-Tacoma, with support in the Senate from Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.
This reform measure sets out workable guidelines for those with felony convictions and public officials responsible for maintaining the voter rolls.
Existing law keeps more than 167,000 Washington citizens with prior felony convictions from voting, according to Doug Honig, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. They have served their prison time and completed probation, but still owe financial debts via the legal system. They are denied the right to vote.
Under the new system, felons will be eligible to vote as soon as they leave the supervision of the state Department of Corrections, or other state and federal systems. They still are obligated to make their court-ordered restitution, but the outstanding debt does not prevent them from registering to vote.
The other benefit of the reform is a more coherent pathway for restoring voting rights.
Secretary of State Sam Reed praised the legislation: "It will give us a clearer system for tracking when ex-felons are eligible and ineligible. We all want good, clean voter-registration rolls, and this bill really helps."
Reconnecting with society is part of successfully moving on with one's life after a felony conviction. Voting is a symbol of participation in the larger community. Orderly voting rolls are part of ensuring clean elections.
This legislation sows the seeds of good citizenship and good government.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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