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Bill Would Restore Voting Rights for People After Prison Release


Thursday, March 25, 2021   

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington lawmakers could restore voting rights for people after they've been released from prison.

House Bill 1078 would allow people convicted of a felony who are not in confinement to be eligible to cast their ballots.

Christopher Poulos, executive director of the Washington Statewide Reentry Council, said currently folks have to complete probation or parole, known as supervised release, to participate in elections.

"Even though they are potentially living and working in their communities, paying taxes, raising families, etc., still don't have the fundamental right to vote, which we find highly disturbing and unacceptable," Poulos stated.

Poulos argued laws barring people who were incarcerated from voting have roots in laws designed to stop Black and other people of color from voting, especially during the Jim Crow era.

Opponents of the bill say people should fully repay their debt to society, including any legal debts or obligations, before having their right to vote restored.

Poulos was formerly incarcerated in a federal prison, and said being able to vote shook him from the exile many people feel when they are released.

"By being welcomed into the civic process, being welcomed as a full member of the community, that's really conducive to pro-social, healthy behavior engagement," Poulos contended. "And therefore reduces the risk of a person returning to harmful behaviors and even breaking the law."

House Bill 1078 has passed the House and is currently in the Senate.

Twenty states, including Oregon and California, as well as the District of Columbia, either restore a person's right to vote when they are released or never take it away.

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