Updated: July 6, 2017
Changing the law is just Step One in extending legal rights. Step Two is making sure people know what their legal rights are, so that – and here’s Step Three – they can actually exercise those rights.
A case in point is the reform passed by the state legislature in 2009 that changed the restoration of voting rights for people with felony convictions. The law now says that the right to vote is restored automatically upon completion of any prison term and period of community supervision by the State Department of Corrections. The ACLU led the effort to change the previous law which required people to fully pay off all legal system debts – known as Legal Financial Obligations or LFOs – before regaining the franchise. We pointed out that limiting the right to vote according to one’s finances was a modern form of the despised poll tax. (Similarly, ACLU affiliates around the country this year are opposing voter ID laws that erect unnecessary barriers to exercising the right to vote.)
Despite the fact that this reform was adopted three years ago, many people remain unaware of the change and believe they’re still ineligible to vote – which means they don’t vote. The ACLU-WA is working hard help eligible voters understand that they do have the right to vote under the new law and is encouraging them to use that right.
To help educate the public about Washington’s reformed voting rights restoration law, the ACLU-WA is sending informational materials to affected communities, offering speakers to train organizations that work with those communities, and posting vital information online.
Speaking of online resources, we’ve developed a new, easy-to-use guide to voting rights – “Criminal Conviction: Can I Vote?”. It’s a step-by-step tool that lets people with past convictions know whether they are eligible to register and cast their ballot.
Want to help? Encourage anyone you know who may have been directly affected by the reform in voting rights restoration to register and vote. Let them and agencies which serve them know about our online voting rights page (https://aclu-wa.org/issues/voting-rights). You can also let us know about any other groups or organizations we should contact to help spread the word.
And if you’re eligible to vote and haven’t yet registered, you can do so online today via the Secretary of State’s website.