Appeals Court Rules Inmates Entitled to Voting Rights

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A federal appeals court in January ruled that felons incarcerated in Washington State have been illegally barred from voting. A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the state’s prison system is “infected” with racial discrimination and therefore violates voting laws.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Photo by Joevare.

The majority ruled that the ban violated the 1965 National Voting Rights Act on grounds of racial discrimination. According to a University of Washington study, racial and ethnic minorities make up 12 percent of Washington’s population, but account for 36 percent of prison inmates. African Americans are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than whites; because of this, 25 percent of black men in Washington are disenfranchised from voting.

A single plaintiff first brought the case to court in 1996; by the time of this ruling, five more had joined. All are members of minority groups claiming political discrimination by the state.

Similar cases in other states have gone to trial, but this is the first ruling in favor of inmates. Only Vermont and Maine allow incarcerated felons to vote.

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna has appealed the 9th Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

—Jeff Raderstrong is a Washington, D.C., writer who blogs at


“I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled
by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people.”

President Barack Obama,
referring in his State of the Union address to the U.S. Supreme Court decision easing restrictions on campaign spending


Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, left, prior to President Obama’s State of the Union address in January.

Photo by Pete Souza / White House

Interested? Read Fran Korten’s 10 Ways to Stop Corporate Dominance of Politics


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