Shea opposes giving felons voting rights on release from prison
The state House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday night that would give voting rights back to felons immediately after they are released from prison, even if they have not paid court fees or restitution to victims. Rep. Matt Shea, R-Mead, voted against the measure, which he said demeans the privilege of voting and is a slap in the face to crime victims.
Current law suspends the right to vote when a person is convicted of a felony. Felons can apply to vote again once they have completed their sentences and paid all their financial obligations. Under House Bill 1517, felons would only have to re-register and their voting rights would be restored automatically, without having to complete community supervision or pay court-ordered costs, legal fees and crime-victim compensation.
Supporters of the bill said it is unjust to deny ex-criminals the right to vote. But opponents, including Shea, argued that the Legislature ought to be standing up for crime victims, not ex-cons.
In his floor remarks, Shea said the bill obscures the often devastating effects of the crimes committed against innocent victims.
“We heard ‘justice for all’ earlier, and I’m wondering where is the justice, where is the justice for the person who has had their home broken into and all their personal, valuable items stolen from them? Where is the justice for the person or the child that has been raped? This bill strips that justice from those people’s hands,” he said.
Shea emphasized that voting is a right, and felons should not be allowed to cast a ballot again until they have completed their full sentences, including probation and parole, and paid off their fines and restitution to their victims.
“If you break the law, losing the right to vote is part of the punishment. Restoring that right instantly upon an inmate’s release flies in the face of what’s reasonable, sensible and prudent,” he said. “The simple act of walking out of prison doesn’t qualify as earning the way back to society. Felons should fully pay their debts first. Then, and only then, should they become eligible to have their civil rights restored, and not before.”
The bill passed the House 53-43 and it will now be considered by the Senate.
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###Washington State House Republican Communications