Voting Rights Restoration Bill Passes Washington State House of Representatives

House Bill 1078 would restore voting rights to over 20,000 Washingtonians

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
February 24, 2021 9:30 pm

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OLYMPIA, Wash. — Today, the Washington State House of Representatives passed ESHB 1078, legislation that would restore voting rights to over 20,000 Washingtonians who are living in their communities but unable to vote because of a past felony conviction. ESHB 1078 would automatically restore voting rights upon release from prison. Supporters say that the bill will advance racial justice by reforming a felony disenfranchisement law rooted in racist history. The bill now moves to the Washington State Senate, where a coalition of advocates are calling on lawmakers to pass the legislation and send it to Gov. Jay Inslee to sign into law.

“The system that we have today is an injustice. It is wrong and it must change,” said Rep. Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton, the prime sponsor of the bill. “We are the only people with the power to make this right. I am proud that my Republican co-sponsor and 39 other lawmakers co-sponsored this bill and have joined me to support this legislation. Together, we can right this wrong. Together we can remove the stain of Jim Crow from the great state of Washington, and together, we can say ‘yes’ to taking one more step toward a democracy that works for all of us.”

“I believe that people, when they get out, should pay their debts, and this bill doesn’t take that away from them. It doesn’t relieve them or forgive them of their debts. It says that we’re not going to play with their right to vote. That’s where I’m in agreement on this bill,” said Rep. Jesse Young, R-Gig Harbor, co-sponsor of the bill. “From a constitutional standpoint, from a faith standpoint, I believe that we should try to give people the opportunity to restore their lives and try to help them along that course. Not shorten their sentences, not forgive them of their debts. And any attempt to say this bill is doing that is conflating the issue. This bill is about not playing with someone’s fundamental right — their God-given right to vote.”

The Washington State Voting Rights Restoration Coalition had this reaction to today’s floor vote:

“We’re excited by today’s news, as thousands of Washingtonians are now a step closer to having their voices heard in our democracy. For too long, people impacted by our criminal legal system have faced overwhelming barriers as they return to their communities — barriers to employment, housing and other critical aspects of their lives. Voter disenfranchisement is yet another barrier impacted people face. It is critical that state Senators act quickly on this bill to ensure Washington no longer bars our neighbors who are living in our communities and paying taxes from participating in the democratic process. Restoring voting rights will strengthen our communities, advance racial justice, and put our state on a path toward a truly representational democracy.”

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