It is obvious that racism still exists… well, obvious to anyone who isn’t either willfully ignorant or a closed-minded bigot. There has been tons of research proving beyond a doubt that much racism exists in our society, individually and collectively. However, it’s nice when the government itself admits to the existence of institutional racism.
“Plaintiffs have demonstrated that the discriminatory impact of Washington‟s felon disenfranchisement is attributable to racial discrimination in Washington‟s criminal justice system thus, that Washington‟s felon disenfranchisement law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Judge A. Wallace Tashima wrote for the majority.
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Washington State‟s constitution previously disenfranchised felons until they repaid all of their legal financial obligations. “For some inmates … that was essentially a lifetime ban on voting,” David Ammons, communications director for Sam Reed, Republican secretary of state, said. “We thought that was unfair and that it was not good social policy.”
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“That development is a positive one to be sure,” Haygood said. “But it doesn’t have any impact on our clients because they are still incarcerated. Neither does that amendment shield victims of discrimination as they enter the criminal justice system on the front end.”
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“If I remember correctly, [previous circuit court cases] were dismissed earlier and plaintiffs were not even allowed to put forth their evidence,” Erika Wood, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice said. “I think this is the first time plaintiffs were actually allowed to put forth evidence that demonstrates the impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color in Washington State.”That evidence came from research by University of Washington sociology professors Dr. Robert Crutchfield and Dr. Katherine Beckett, who found evidence of racial discrimination in each step of the state’s criminal justice system, from policing and investigation to prosecution and sentencing.
“The numbers in Washington State are stark. Twenty-four percent of black men and 15 percent of the black population in the state can’t vote because of a felony conviction and we argue that that result is exactly what Section 2 was enacted to proscribe,” Haygood said. “The court was clear that we provided compelling evidence of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system that served to shift any inequality into the political process.”
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“At this point there are no changes being made in the way elections are administered,” Kim van Ekstrom, chief communications officer for King County elections said. “This is such a recent decision and at this time we are basically waiting to see what the state is going to advise us on. Like everyone else, we are taking our lead from them and we support statewide consistency regarding voter registration matters.”
In the meantime, Wood plans to pursue federal legislation. The Democracy Restoration Act (H.R. 3335/S.1516) was introduced in the House by Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich, and Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., this summer. The bill “would restore voting rights in federal elections to people who are out of prison living in the community across the country,” Wood said.