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WA bill to restore voting rights to people on probation or parole

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OLYMPIA, Wash.-- Two companion bills in the Senate and the House are working to restore voting rights to those with a felony that are still on probation or parole.

Washington States prohibits people with felony convictions from voting while they are under community supervision.

As a result, 20,000 people who are living in the community, working and paying taxes, and raising families are denied the right to vote.

Action News reached out to Senator Patty Kuderer who is a sponsor of the bill. She says she’s introduced the bill two times already, but feels this may be the year it makes it through completely.

"If we deem you safe enough to be outside the prison walls, then you are safe enough to fill an oval on a ballot and participate in democracy. And I've talked to people who have had their right to vote taken away, and they feel less than a citizen because their voice isn't being heard," said Sen. Patty Kuderer.

Senator Kuderer says she introduced the bill because one of the most sacred and fundamental rights we have as Americans is the right to vote. She says she knows, from history, the reason voting rights were first removed from those who commit a crime was from Jim Crow laws.

As an employment discrimination attorney, she says this has it's roots in discrimination. Kuderer tells Action News since 2018, lawmakers have made great strides in removing barriers to voting. This includes passing same day registration, automatic voter registration, pre-registration for 16-17 year-olds. She says taking away voting rights from those under community supervision is systematic racism.

Kuderer says once the reconstruction amendments were passed, and African Americans were given the right to vote, there was a systematic and concerted effort to prevent them from voting. This was through a loophole in the 13th amendment which prevented people from voting if they committed certain kinds of crimes.

Senator Kuderer says allowing people the right to vote when they exit prison actually helps them with reintegration to society.

Kuderer wants to help incentivize people to get back on the right track and reduce rates of recidivism.

Another sponsor of the bill, Rep. Tarra Simmons (D), is the first person to be elected to the Washington legislature who has served time in prison.

Currently in Washington, if you have a felony, your right to vote is only restored once you are no longer under the authority of the department of corrections.

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House Bill 10-78 is scheduled for executive session in the house committee on state government & tribal relations tomorrow at 10:00 am

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