The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has thrown out Washington’s longstanding ban on voting by felons.
The surprise 2-1 ruling comes in a case brought in U.S. District Court in Eastern Washington almost 14 years ago by Muhammad Shabazz Farrakhan and three other black inmates, and by a Native American and a Latino inmate. The inmates said minorities are disproportionately prosecuted and sentenced to prison, and that their automatic disenfranchisement violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
The ruling means the more than 18,000 felons behind bars in the state could get back their right to vote — without having to wait until they are released from prison and are no longer on probation or parole. The ruling also could open the door to similar lawsuits in the 9th Circuit’s eight other states and two territories.
In recent years, only two states – Maine and Vermont – have allowed inmates the right to vote.