Should Felons Have to Pay All Fines, Fees, and Restitutions Related to Their Conviction before Regaining Their Vote?
Rob McKenna, JD, Washington Attorney General, and Sam Reed, MA, Washington Secretary of State, stated in a Mar. 29, 2006 Seattle Times article titled "State to Appeal Ruling Granting Voting Rights to Felons Who Owe Fines," by Rachel La Corte of the Associated Press:
"We believe a rational basis does exist for the Legislature to deny felons the right to vote until they have completed their entire court-ordered sentences, including payment of criminal penalties, victim's restitution, and legal fees, rather than separating out various sentencing aspects."
The Union-Bulletin Editorial Board (Walla Walla, WA) stated in a Feb. 6, 2007 editorial titled "Felons Should Not Vote Until All Their Fines, Fees Are Paid: Voting Is a Right, But When Citizens Break the Law, They Forfeit Some of Their Rights":
"When people are convicted of a crime, they are punished by society. That usually means spending time behind bars and paying a fine. In Washington state, it also means suspension of voting rights until the felon's debts are paid in full. That's as it should be...
If legislation on felon voting is needed, it is to establish a clear system so that county auditors will know when a felon is eligible to have voting rights restored...
Voting is a right, but when citizens break the law, they forfeit some of their rights. Felons should be made to complete their entire sentences, including probation or parole, and satisfy all related financial obligations before they can resume voting."
Booker T. Stallworth, Communication Director at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, stated in an Apr. 7, 2006 article titled "ACLU's Lawsuit for Felons' Voting Rights Dishonors Crime Victims," published on Human Events.com:
"Too often, the civil rights of crime victims are forgotten. Restitution for the financial, psychological and legal problems that often result from crime is vital for victims to be made whole again...
As we clean ineligible voters from the roll and restore integrity to our voting process, let’s debate victim restitution and other key issues, but let's do so without resorting to rhetorical hyperbole. Some terms -- Nazi, plantation, concentration camp, poll tax, etc. -- are too powerful to be cheapened and used inappropriately...
Under the law... 'restitution may include payment of attorney fees and fines. In addition, offenders living in the community are required to pay supervision fees while under supervision.' A felon who has not met all of these legal obligations has not paid his or her debt to society in full. So why should a felon’s voting rights be restored before that debt is paid?"
The Herald (Everett, WA) stated in an Apr. 6, 2006 editorial titled "Felons Should Pay All Debt Before Voting":
"If you do the crime, you should do the time -- and pay the fine. But according to a ruling last week by a King County Superior Court... Judge Michael Spearman said a state law requiring felons to pay all fines and court-ordered restitution before they can vote violates the U.S. and state constitutions...
These are felons we're talking about. They chose to break the law. Sorry, but there's a price to pay for that. And this ruling doesn't just apply to fines paid to the state -- it includes court-ordered restitution to a criminal's innocent victims. Who is looking out for their interests?
And why shouldn't states have the right to decide what constitutes full payment of a felon's debt to society, including the restoration of voting rights? In Washington and other states, prisons are already packed. Using fines and restitutions in felony sentencing is good public policy because it offers a rational alternative to long, costly prison sentences."
Alexes Harris, PhD, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington, stated in a Jan. 13, 2010 email to ProCon.org:
"People should not be barred from voting solely because they are unable to pay back their fines, fees and interest. If we truly want people convicted of felonies to re-engage with society, become rehabilitated, and feel a part of a broader community (thus creating incentives not to recidivate) then our State should do everything possible to re-incorporate these individuals into mainstream society. In terms of being a just and even handed society, it is not fair if thousands of people are unable to re-gain their voting rights because they are poor... People who are wealthy or have access to money are able to repay their financial debts and poor people (the vast majority of people who have felony convictions) are not. This is an unjust system."
Kathleen Pequeño, Editor of Justice Matters, the newsletter of the Partnership for Safety and Justice (formerly Western Prison Project), wrote in the Fall 2006 article "Should You Have to Pay to Vote?":
"There is no hard evidence that withholding people’s right to vote will assist them or motivate them to pay off fines, court fees, or restitution. If we want people to be able to pay off fines, fees and restitution, a more logical focus would be on eliminating barriers to employment after incarceration rather than depriving them of a civil right...
Any person who pays money will get his or her right to vote restored sooner. This flies in the face of a principle that is at this point undisputed: the right to cast a vote in a public election should never be tied to the ability to pay money."
Neema Trivedi, a former Brennan Center Research Associate, stated in her Oct. 9, 2006 editorial "Ease Ex-Offenders' Voting Restrictions," published in the Arizona Daily Star:
"The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that a person's ability to pay cannot affect their right to vote, and the 24th Amendment explicitly renders the poll tax unconstitutional.
Yet in Arizona, ex-offenders who have completed all other terms of their sentence for a first conviction, including prison, parole and probation terms, cannot participate in the political process unless they pay their legal financial obligations...
Like its historical predecessor, the poll tax, this law disproportionately impacts low-income voters and people of color."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) stated in an Oct. 21, 2004 press release titled "ACLU of Washington Lawsuit Challenges Voting Restrictions Based on Financial Debts":
"Under current state law, even though individuals have finished their prison terms, they are not allowed to vote until they completely pay a variety of monetary debts to the legal system that are imposed at sentencing. These legal financial obligations can include docket and filing fees, court costs, restitution, and costs of incarceration, as well as interest on these debts, which accrues at a high rate of 12 percent a year. According to the ACLU, more than 90 percent of individuals charged with committing a felony in Washington are impoverished at the time and thus find it difficult to pay these legal fees upon release...
Washington's law violates guarantees of the right to vote in both the Washington and United States constitutions. The lawsuit asks that the right to vote not be limited by a person's financial ability, but it does not seek to eliminate any debts to the legal system or change criminal sentences."