SEATTLE (AP) – Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday signed a bill automatically restoring the right to vote for people who have been released from prison after committing crimes, even though they are still on parole – a move sponsored by a legislator who was herself imprisoned previously.
“As other states restrict the right to vote, I am happy that in Washington we are expanding access to democracy,” Inslee said.
Representative Tarra Simmons was convicted of assault in 2001 and drug and theft charges in 2011, after her father’s death sent her into a battle with methamphetamine. But she went to law school and got approval from the state Supreme Court to take the bar exam after her release. Last November, she apparently became the first former criminal elected to the Legislature.
She and other supporters said the measure would help encourage former prisoners to reenter society and that it was a matter of racial justice, as those on parole in Washington are disproportionately people. colored. More than 20,000 people are expected to regain their right to vote when the law comes into force next year.
“Getting the vote back, after losing so much, meant more to me than most people could imagine,” Simmons, a Democrat from Bremerton, said in a press release Wednesday. but it is a giant leap for civil rights and it is the one that will give others what it gave me: the conviction that I mattered, that I was again a member of society and that my freedom was worth preserving at all costs.
About 20 other states also allow parolees to vote. In Washington, offenders were not allowed to vote until they completed their community supervision with the Department of Corrections, a period that can last up to three years for violent crimes.
Inslee thanked Simmons for his work on the bill.
“As someone who rebuilt her life after incarceration, she has used her lived experience so successfully and effectively for the benefit of others and our community,” said Inslee.
Senate Republicans opposed the measure despite support from many quarters, including the state attorney general’s office, the Washington Prosecutors Association, some victim advocates and Republican Jesse Young, who co-sponsored the bill.
Republican senators have said former prisoners should complete their sentences – including parole – and show they can obey the law before regaining the right to vote.
Associated Press correspondent Rachel La Corte has contributed from Olympia.