It’s great to see an editorial board finally expose WA’s disenfranchisement of ex-felons for the national disgrace that it is. Too bad it wasn’t a WA state paper. From an editorial in Monday’s New York Times (Dickensian Democracy):
Stripping convicted felons of the right to vote is a slap at America’s democratic ideals. Many states are backing away from this policy, understanding at last that voting rights are in fact basic human rights that should be abridged only in the rarest circumstances. That lesson has yet to penetrate the state of Washington, which has created a form of disenfranchisement that is straight out of “Oliver Twist.”
Last week, an article by The Times’s Adam Liptak introduced us to a disabled woman named Beverly Dubois who lost the right to vote because she could not pay about $1,600 of charges that were assessed in connection with her marijuana conviction. The debt is growing rapidly because of the interest charged by the state. Ms. Dubois, who served nine months in jail, has paid her debt to society. But until she settles the one to the state, she is stripped of her rights as a citizen. Disabled in a car accident, she can send in only $10 per month. At that rate, she is likely to die before paying off the debt.
Several states permanently marginalize ex-offenders by saddling them with unfair charges and fines that are supposed to help pay for public defenders, drug tests, halfway houses and other “services.” But Washington leads the pack in dunning impoverished offenders. People who commit certain crimes are even charged for having their DNA registered in the offender database.
In addition to devastating poor families that can barely feed themselves, these fees push ex-offenders even further into the margins of society. And Washington’s policy of stripping people of their right to vote until they can cough up enough money to pay these unfair charges is morally outrageous.
Lets be blunt. WA’s felon disenfranchisement policy is modeled on post-Reconstruction laws, specifically designed to deny African Americans the right to vote. And it works: about a quarter of all African American males in WA state are denied the franchise due to felony convictions. WA’s felon disenfranchisement laws are clearly racist in impact, if not in intent.
Republicans can come up with all the moralistic arguments they want, but there is absolutely no social benefit to further marginalizing ex-felons by denying them the right to vote… indeed, none other than the American Correctional Association recommends changing these laws so as to restore the franchise upon release from prison.
The truth is, the state GOP opposes changing the law because they’ve done the math: African Americans disproportionately vote Democrat, and the law disproportionately disenfranchises African Americans. I guess the only thing that’s really changed since Reconstruction is party allegiance.