Of Washington state's 38 county jails, only a few have policies for allowing inmates to vote and even fewer actually follow the procedures, according to a 2016 report from Disability Rights Washington, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
On any given day, about 12,000 people are jailed in Washington. With elections upcoming, that is not an insignificant number of potential votes.
“Most people in jail are awaiting trial and are presumed innocent,” according to the Disability Rights report. “Unfortunately, most jails have no means for helping people access or cast their ballots while in custody. Moreover, voting with a disability may require accommodations and alternative means of voting that are readily available in the community, but not at all available in a jail. This leads to people with disabilities being disproportionately disenfranchised by our state jail system.”
According to a U.S. Department of Justice report, 49 percent of women and 39 percent of men in jails across the country are reported to have disabilities.
Three Washington jails -- one in Spokane County, one in Kittitas County and one in Des Moines -- are the exceptions and policies for providing voting access to inmates and facilitate voter registration, receipt of ballots and casting of votes. Officials in Spokane have a program in which officers help inmates register to vote and get voting information.
In addition, a fourth jail has taken steps improve access to voting after a visit from representatives of Disability Rights Washington. When the group visited the Island County Jail to ask about voting policies, jail officials immediately took steps to improve access to the process. The jail worked with county election office to start a voter-education program in the jail and put up voter-registration pamphlets. The jail now provides inmates with mail-in ballots.
People who are convicted of felonies in Washington State will have their rights to vote restored as long as they are not under the authority of the Department of Corrections. Once their rights are restored, each individual must re-register to vote in order to receive a ballot, according to the Washington Office of the Secretary of State.
If convicted of a felony in another state or in federal court, a person's right to vote is restored as long as he or she is not currently incarcerated for that felony.
A person does not lose the right to vote for a misdemeanor conviction or a conviction in juvenile court.
Three times a year, the Secretary of State uses information provided by the Department of Corrections and the state court system to screen the list of registered voters for ineligible felons. If person is registered to vote, but ineligible because of a felony conviction, the person will receive a letter explaining that their voter registration is being cancelled.The letter provides information on how to dispute the cancellation (RCW 29A.08.520).
A former inmate may lose the right to vote if he or she commits another felony or if they fail to make three payments toward restitution in a 12 month period.
No matter the crime or the circumstances, every defendant has a right to representation by a qualified attorney. If you have been arrested and face criminal charges, call the Seattle law office of Steve Karimi at (206) 621-8777 or contact him online.