In a move that could see Washington inmates voting from prison, a federal appeals court has thrown out the state’s restrictions on felon voting.
Under state law, residents convicted of a felony currently lose the right to vote until they are released from custody and off of Department of Corrections supervision. Tuesday’s split ruling by a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel puts those restrictions in doubt, as two of three judges reviewing the voting rights lawsuit found that the state restrictions unfairly penalize minorities.
Attorneys for six Washington state prisoners, Circuit Court Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote, “have demonstrated that police practices, searches, arrests, detention practices, and plea bargaining practices lead to a greater burden on minorities that cannot be explained in race-neutral ways.”
Joined by Judge Stephen Reinhardt in the majority opinion, Tashima found that black and Latino Washingtonians faced arrest and prosecution at rates far higher than could be explained simply by increased criminal activity. Finding no “race neutral” explanation for the higher incarceration rates, the majority reversed a U.S. District Court decision and ruled in favor of the inmates.