It is national voter registration day and one population in Washington state has only recently had their right to vote restored: people who were incarcerated. In 2022, voting rights were restored to people if they are not currently serving a sentence in prison.
Anthony Blankenship, senior community organizer with Civil Survival, a Washington-state-based organization that works with people with experience in the criminal legal system, said restoring voting rights to people who have been incarcerated helps them be part of society again.
“Without having that voice and without having that the power to be able to be civically engaged, what are we saying? We’re reducing people to second class citizens, and this allows people to be engaged,” he said.
Blankenship noted people who have been incarcerated are most likely to be impacted by new state laws and so they should have a say in who makes those laws. Civil Survival is holding three mural-making eventsto celebrate voting rights restoration. The first is in Spokane today, followed by an event in Yakima on Saturday and Tacoma on September 30th.
Sarah Eichhorn served time in prison in 2005 and now owns a restaurant in Bremerton. She said taking away people’s right to vote is discriminatory, disproportionately impacting people of color.
“Any person who is living within this society that we’re born into should have some sort of way to register their vote on decisions, whether that be at a small level or a big level,” she explained.
Blankenship added restoring the right to vote to people once they have served their sentence is a good first step, but added people behind bars should also have this right restored. Voting is a born right that we have as U.S. citizens, he said.
“Criminal disenfranchisement in general is born out of a history of systemic racism and we cannot have that and we should not have that in our laws,” he continued.
People out of prison who want to vote must register with the Secretary of State’s office.
Featured photo: Washington state is holding elections on November 7. (Darylann Elmi/Adobe Stock)