Tuesday, April 4, 2006

washington update: sufferin' suffrage rights

i wrote last month about washington's practice of denying voting rights to felons who can't afford to pay state-imposed fines, fees, and court costs. king county superior court judge michael spearman ruled last week that felons who completed their sentence but have not paid back such fines cannot be denied the right to vote:

"The Washington re-enfranchisement scheme which excludes one group of felons from exercising the right to vote, while permitting another, where the sole distinction between them is the ability to pay money bears no rational relation to any stated or apparent governmental purpose."

the state will surely appeal the ruling, but the practice paints an ugly picture for a democracy that prides itself on universal suffrage. plaintiff beverly dubois, convicted on a marijuana charge, has been paying $10 per month since her 2003 release. unfortunately, this doesn't even cover the interest on her fine, so her $1,600 fine has increased to about $2,000. but for this fine, she would be eligible to vote in the state.

most people enter the criminal justice system in poverty. making debtors of felons will make it that much more difficult for them to become stakeholding and tax-paying citizens in good standing. i wrote before that fining the poorest of the poor is either "piling on" to further criminalize the indigent or a misguided attempt to squeeze blood from turnips. in either case, the practice seems strange in a debtor nation -- a nation itself in hock for $8,377,471,102,607.82 .

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