Voting Rights Restoration is Critical for Racial Justice
By Sedonia Young
In 2020, two things became clearer than ever: our criminal legal system disproportionately
harms Black Americans, and the right to vote is one of the most powerful tools that we can use
to create the change we so desperately need. So why does Washington still deny voting rights
to our neighbors who are the most directly harmed by mass incarceration?
Today, over 20,000 Washingtonians who are living in their communities, paying taxes, and
working hard for their families cannot vote because of the impact of our criminal legal system.
For the months or years that they are under community supervision, they are denied a voice in
our democracy. Some may even have a life sentence of community supervision, meaning that
they will never vote again. And unfortunately, Black and Indigenous Washingtonians are more
likely than white Washingtonians to lose their voting rights this way.
With House Bill 1078, our lawmakers have a unique opportunity to stand up for racial justice and
protect our democracy. If our state Senate passes it, the bill would automatically restore the
right to vote to every citizen who is not incarcerated.
Through my voter registration and education work with Political Destiny, I have seen how voting
can empower people and build a sense of connection to their communities. Since the last time
that Washington adjusted their felony disenfranchisement laws, we have organized young
people in our neighborhoods to talk to people at barbershops and hand out voter registration
forms. What we discovered was that many formerly incarcerated people do not know when their
rights are restored and may be afraid to register even after they complete community
When these people return home from prison, they already face many barriers to housing,
employment, and community connection. If we want people to successfully reenter their
neighborhoods, we should be welcoming them back instead of continuing to punish them by
silencing their political voices.
Research has shown that when people are civically engaged and have a stake in their
community, they are less likely to return to the system. Restoring voting rights would improve
public safety while also giving the people most impacted by our state’s criminal legal system a
chance to advocate for themselves and their peers. This could have a huge impact on the
Washington communities that are too often unrepresented in our government.
Like poll taxes and literacy tests, Washington’s felony disenfranchisement laws are a relic from
overtly racist times where white lawmakers designed policy to target the voting rights of Black
people. Just as we rejected poll taxes, literacy tests, and other racially-discriminatory restrictions
on voting in the past, we must stand together against modern-day restrictions that were
designed to keep Black and Indigenous people locked out of our democracy. Passing House Bill
1078 is a necessary first step towards a system that truly represents all of us
Sedonia Young is a political activist for Political Destiny, a political action committee formed in
2007 by four area pastors to respond to the unaddressed economic, social, and political needs
that have marginalized individuals and underrepresented groups within Pierce County. One of
their primary goals is to increase voter turnout through voter registration and education.
The Washington Voting Justice Coalition is a group of community organizations and individuals
dedicated to voting rights and access in Washington State. We believe that the vote is our tool,
as ordinary people, to have a voice in our government.