The Washington State Supreme Court today reversed a landmark ruling that struck down state law denying voting rights to felons who had not paid off their court-imposed fines. "We hold that Washington's disenfranchisement scheme does not violate the privileges and immunities clause of the Washington Constitution or the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution," wrote Justice Mary Fairhurst for the majority in the 6-3 decision (besides the majority ruling, justices issued four additional concurences and dissents).
The court left it up to "the province of the legislature to determine the best policy approach for re-enfranchising Washington's felons." In March, King County Superior Court Judge Michael Spearman struck down the felon-voter ban, decreeing it unconstitutional to deny voting rights to those who are too poor to pay off financial obligations incurred as part of their sentences. Chief Justice Gerry Alexander was among the dissenters today, passionately arguing:
Wealthy people who are convicted of a felony and are ordered to pay costs, fees, fines or restitution can pay those [monies] immediately. When they do, they can regain the right to vote almost immediately upon the completion of the remaining conditions of their sentence. The same is true for felons who have friends or family who are willing and able to pay their [obligations]. On the other hand, felons who lack the resources to pay...in full cannot recover their right to vote even after completing the remaining terms of their sentence.
The case was brought by three felons who claimed they were trying to fulfill their court obligations but in the meantime had lost voting rights ultimately because they were not wealthy. The ACLU had called the law the "modern form of the poll tax."