The Washington State Constitution denies persons convicted of felonies the right to vote until their civil rights have been restored. Civil rights are restored when offenders complete all aspects of their sentence, including paying the legal-financial obligations imposed at sentencing. Payment of legal-financial obligations presents a significant hurdle to offenders trying to reclaim their right to vote. According to the Washington Department of Corrections, roughly 46,500 offenders in Washington have not had their right to vote restored solely because of unpaid legal-financial obligations. The right to vote is a fundamental right secured by the United States Constitution, yet the United States Supreme Court has affirmed that states have the right, under the Fourteenth Amendment, to disenfranchise persons convicted of crimes. While the constitutional requirements of felon disenfranchisement are settled, the requirements of felon re-enfranchisement are an open question. This Comment argues that felon re-enfranchisement laws must not discriminate in ways that violate the traditional voting rights requirements of the Equal Protection Clause. As one requirement, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that states cannot require the payment of money as a qualification for voting. Therefore, Washington's requirement that offenders pay their legal-financial obligations before re-enfranchisement violates the Equal Protection Clause because it conditions the fundamental right to vote on the payment of money to the state.
Jill E. Simmons,
Notes and Comments,
Beggars Can't Be Voters: Why Washington's Felon Re-Enfranchisement Law Violates the Equal Protection Clause,
78 Wash. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.uw.edu/wlr/vol78/iss1/8