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Washington Ex-Cons Cant Be Denied Voting Rights Because of Unpaid LFOs

Washington Ex-Cons Cant Be Denied Voting Rights Because of Unpaid LFOs

On March 27, 2006, Judge Michael Spearman, of the Superior Court of King County, Washington held that withholding voting rights from released felons, solely because they owe legal financial obligations (LFOs) is unconstitutional.

Plaintiffs Daniel Madison, Beverly DuBois, and Dannielle Garner, have all been convicted of felonies in Washington State. They all have unpaid LFOs related to their convictions, for which they were denied the right to vote in state elections, pursuant to RCW 9.94A.637(1)(a). In 2004, they filed suit claiming that they were being unlawfully discriminated against because of their indigency.

Judge Spearman recognized that Art. IV Sec. 3 of the state constitution and RCW 29A.04.079 lawfully worked to deprive those convicted of felonies of their right to vote until that right was restored to them under RCW 9.96.010 and 9.94A.637(4). He also recognized that prerequisite to such restoration was the felons satisfaction of all LFOs pursuant to RCW 9.94A.637(1)(a).

Judge Spearman found that the right to vote is a fundamental right, the deprivation of which normally can occur only if that is necessary for the furtherance of a compelling state interest. But since the plaintiffs were felons whose voting rights had been lawfully rescinded, he held that the state only had to show that such was rationally related to a legitimate interest.

Even under rationality review, however, Judge Spearman found that the plaintiffs had been unlawfully discriminated against. Since RCW 9.94A.637(1)(a) allowed the restoration of voting rights to only those felons who had paid their LFOs in their entirety, it discriminated against those who, because of their poverty, could not pay their LFOs off quickly. Judge Spearman held that this wealth based discrimination violated the plaintiffs right to equal protection of the laws under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He also held the same to have violated their rights to equal privileges and immunities and equal voting power under Art. 1 Sec. 12 and 19, respectively, of the Washington state Constitution.

Based upon the foregoing, Judge Spearman granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs, holding that RCW 9.94A.637(1)(a) was unconstitutional. See: Madison v. State of Washington, King County Superior Court, Case No. 04-2-33414-4. The ruling is available on PLNs website. The Washington Supreme Court has granted review.

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Related legal case

Madison v. State of Washington