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Fed judges: Washington felony inmates should get vote

Associated Press | 1/13/2010, 3:15 a.m.
OLYMPIA, Wash. ­— In...

An attorney for Farrakhan equated disenfranchisement laws to poll taxes and literacy tests of the past.

“In this case, we have proved that the criminal justice system in this state is biased against African Americans, and the impact has been a violation of their voting rights,” said Larry Weiser, a law professor at Gonzaga University School of Law who is the lead attorney in the lawsuit.

The state contended that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the law was not intended to discriminate against minorities.

David Ammons, a spokesman for the state’s head elections official, said that Secretary of State Sam Reed “supports minority rights, but believes it is a rational and reasonable sanction for society to demand that felons lose their voting rights while in prison or under community supervision.”

Last year, lawmakers passed a law that allows convicted felons to reregister to vote once they’re no longer on parole or probation. Previously, felons who were no longer in Washington state custody but owed court-ordered fines and restitution were not allowed to vote. Under the new law that took effect last July, voting rights could be revoked if a felon willingly fails to make regular payments on those financial obligations.

In her dissent, 9th Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown wrote that the majority “has charted territory that none of our sister circuits has dared to explore,” and notes that three other appellate courts  — the 1st Circuit in a Massachusetts case, the 2nd Circuit in a New York case, and the 11th Circuit in a Florida case  — “have all determined that vote denial challenges to felon disenfranchisement laws are not recognizable under the Voting Rights Act.”

She wrote that since Washington state passed a law changing voting rights just last year, and after the 9th Circuit heard the Farrakhan case, the case should go back to district court.

“It is not our job to consider, in the first instance, the effect this new law has on plaintiffs’ case and whether the totality of the circumstances analysis under ... the Voting Rights Act should be different now that plaintiffs’ case remains viable only as to currently incarcerated felons,” she wrote.


(Associated Press)