A federal appeals court reversed course Thursday and upheld Washington state’s ban on voting by prison inmates in a case that challenged the disproportionate effect it has on minority voters.
A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals caused a stir by ruling in January that Washington’s inmates should be allowed to vote. That decision was expected to give momentum to other efforts to expand voting to inmates; only Maine and Vermont allow those behind bars to cast ballots.
But an 11-judge panel reconsidered the case at a hearing in San Francisco last month and unanimously upheld Washington’s ban, which dates to 1866, before statehood.
“This ruling affirms the rights of states to withhold the right to vote from those who’ve committed the most serious crimes against society,” Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said.
The judges said that to challenge the ban under the Voting Rights Act, inmates would have to demonstrate intentional discrimination in the state’s criminal-justice system — not just a disparity in the racial makeup of the prison population.