Editorial | Prisoners should be stripped of voting rights

What do you get if you commit a crime?

Well, prison, of course.

But now, thanks to a pair of judges on the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, prisoners in our state also get to vote.

The two, part of a three-judge panel, threw out a state law banning those in prison from voting. The reasoning? The state’s criminal-justice system is “infected” with racial discrimination.

Talk about a travesty of justice.

According to the judges, the state’s position violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising minority voters. Never mind that the 1965 act was written to outlaw poll taxes or literacy tests that kept minorities from voting.

Minorities aren’t prohibited from voting in our state, only felons – of all colors. Want to keep your right to vote in elections? Simple. Don’t commit a crime. If you do commit a crime, state law lets you vote again once you serve your time in prison and make good on the terms of your release.

Apparently that wasn’t good enough for the judges out here in the west, even though federal courts in Massachusetts (in 2009), New York (in 2006), and Florida (in 2005) reached opposite conclusions.

What apparently influenced the judges in the 9th Circuit was social-science data that showed that minorities in our state were stopped, arrested and convicted in disproportionate rates to others. That, they said, makes the state law inherently discriminatory.


Law enforcement officers patrol areas where crime is known to happen. That’s where the criminals are. A concentration of minorities isn’t the issue.

Some areas south of Seattle are known as high crime areas. Police go there because they’ve been summoned time after time by residents reporting that a crime has been committed. Do the police respond? Of course.

Do minorities live there? Sure. But so do whites. It isn’t the color of the skin that’s important. When the police catch lawbreakers – and they’re convicted – they go to prison.

Wisely, our state Attorney General – Bellevue’s Rob McKenna – has asked the 9th Circuit Court to stay any issuance of a mandate while the state appeals the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The High Court needs to weigh in on this issue given the different ruling from different federal courts.

If the U.S. Supreme Court accepts the case, McKenna plans to argue it himself. He argued and won a similar felon voting case before the Washington Supreme Court in 2007.

For the sake of law-abiding people, we hope he wins again.