Several weeks ago, I was out registering voters at my local farmers market. Most everyone said they were already registered, and statistically, I believe them. With the exception of the areas around the University of Washington and the downtown core, Seattle neighborhoods universally boast voter registration percentages of more than 60 percent. In some, that percentage is well greater than 90 percent.
But one guy shook his head. When I offered to register him, he covered the ears of the child he was walking with and told me he couldn’t because “I’m a criminal.”
This is not the first time I’ve heard this while registering voters. There is a pretty big misconception that once a person has a felony on their record, they are barred from ever voting again. But they are not.
To vote in Washington State, a person must be: a citizen of the United States (this includes those who have undergone the naturalization process), a resident of the state and at least 18 years of age on Election Day. You don’t need a permanent address — just somewhere where you can receive mail — and you don’t even necessarily need a driver’s license.
Additionally, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, you can’t be “under Department of Corrections supervision for a Washington felony conviction.” That doesn’t mean, though, that a felony conviction is the end of a person’s right to vote.
“If you were convicted of a felony in Washington State, your right to vote is restored as long as you are not under the authority (in prison or on community custody) of the Department of Corrections (DOC),” the Secretary of State’s Office explains. “Once your right is restored, you must reregister to vote in order to receive a ballot.”
That goes for folks who were convicted and incarcerated here in Washington and in other states.
If you’ve done your time and are no longer under supervision (i.e. if you’re off parole), your rights are reinstated in Washington.
You just have to register.
Unfortunately, the day I met the guy at the farmers market, he didn’t have time to reregister.
But I hope to see him again the next time I’m out with the clipboard — or anyone else who thinks they can’t vote anymore. Because it’s possible that they can.
Hanna Brooks Olsen is a writer and policy consultant. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, GOOD, Bust Magazine, KNKX, and a handful of others. She’s currently writing a book.
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