The Monroe Correctional Complex on April 9, 2020. (Sound Publishing file photo)

The Monroe Correctional Complex on April 9, 2020. (Sound Publishing file photo)

Formerly incarcerated people regain right to vote in Washington

Rights restored immediately upon release.

By Sydney Brown, WNPA News Service

Formerly incarcerated people will immediately regain the right to vote after Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law this automatic right, marking passage for one of the first criminal justice reform bills this session.

“The right to vote we know is a key component to a successful re-entry into society following incarceration,” Inslee said as he signed House Bill 1078 on April 7.

“This might seem a small thing to some people, but it’s a giant step for civil rights,” Rep. Tarra Simmons, D-Bremerton, said in a statement as the bill’s primary sponsor. Simmons advocated for the bill as a formerly incarcerated person herself.

Washington joins 19 other states in immediate restoration of voting rights after completing a prison sentence, according to 2020 data from The Sentencing Project. This law will restore the right for more than 45,000 disenfranchised people in the state, according to data on Washington State from The Sentencing Project.

Nationally, Maine and Vermont remain the only two states to allow those still in prison to vote and have no voting restrictions based on felony convictions. Eleven states still deny the vote to anyone who was in the prison system, even after they finish confinement and parole.

“While there were states restricting the right to vote, I’m glad that in Washington, here we’re expanding our access to democracy,” Inslee said.

The bill did not have much bipartisan support, with some Republican lawmakers saying people convicted of felonies should finish their entire sentence before the right to vote is restored.

“It should be restored, absolutely. But it should be restored after 100% of their fine or debt to their society is paid,” Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, told the Senate during its floor vote March 24.

Also in criminal justice reform, Inslee signed a bill to change the arbitrator selection process when a law enforcement officer faces disciplinary action.

SB 5055 creates a rotating pool of qualified and independent arbitrators from which the Public Relations Employment Commission can choose. The law also requires agencies to collect data on disciplinary action hearings.

“This bill improves the approach we use when a law enforcement officer faces a disciplinary action,” Inslee said.

A study on police arbitration found that 46% of the time, the arbitrators would force agencies to rehire officers even if a disciplinary hearing found they had engaged in misconduct on the job.

Sen. Joe Nguyen, D-West Seattle, the bill’s primary sponsor, said in a statement the bill took another step toward more transparent law enforcement.

“It may not be a silver bullet to fixing our criminal justice and policing systems, but this is a massive step toward comprehensive reform and a fairer process,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen’s bill garnered some support from Republicans as it passed the House in a 60-38 vote March 24. Some who opposed it said certain parts of the bill would actually increase bias in the arbitrator process.

“The intent of the bill is to avoid those, so I would have preferred to see more of an open slate for the arbitrator pool that we develop,” Rep. Larry Hoff, R-Vancouver, said during the debate.


In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing editor@redmond-reporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.redmond-reporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

More in News

Sarah Perry, King County Council
King County Councilmember Sarah Perry shares her priorities for Eastside

New District 3 King County Councilmember Sarah Perry has outlined behavioral health,… Continue reading

File photo
County auditor finds agencies fall short on emergency services

The auditor’s office recommends clarifying responsibilities and accountability for effective planning.

During a news conference Thursday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee explains the deployment of the National Guard to hospitals to assist with the coronavirus surge. (TVW) 20220113
Surgeries paused, National Guard deployed to assist hospitals

King County health officials say 1 in 7 ICU and acute-care hospital beds are occupied by a COVID patient.

Screenshot from City of Kent Facebook Page
Trash piles up in King County neighborhoods after agency postpones service for weeks

Collection company initially cited weather as the reason, but now a strike interferes.

Screenshot from King County Council meeting
King County Council approves new leadership, committee structure and assignments

The leadership positions and committee assignments will last through 2022.

Photo evidence of suspected burglar. (Photos taken from charging documents)
Suspect, 21, arrested and charged under suspicion of more than a dozen home burglaries

Police believe the man was a prolific home invader in the Eastside.

Photo courtesy of Lake Washington School District
Lake Washington School District places three levies on the Feb. 8 ballot

The exisiting levies, which expire in February, help fully fund the 57 schools within the district.

File photo
Widespread burnout among healthcare workers prompts change at hospitals

Healthcare workers unions are supporting HB 1868 and companion bill SB 5715.

Most Read