Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Wednesday that will automatically restore the voting rights of people convicted of a felony once they are released from prison, even if they are still under community supervision.
The law, which takes effect next year, will restore voting rights to more than 20,000 people in the state, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Currently, people with felonies in the state can only have their voting rights restored after finishing the conditions of their sentence.
“While other states are restricting the right to vote, I’m glad that in Washington, we are expanding access to democracy,” Inslee said before signing the bill.
The new law makes Washington one of a few Democratic states that have moved to expand voting access in stark contrast to the Republican rush in statehouses across the country to make voting more difficult.
Republican lawmakers have introduced 361 restrictive bills in a different set of 47 states. Texas, Arizona and Georgia — states that are competitive in presidential elections, but where Republicans have full control of statehouses — have seen the largest numbers of restrictive bills introduced, according to the Brennan Center.
The crush of new voting rules comes after former President Donald Trump’s lies about widespread fraud in the 2020 election ignited a new, fiercely partisan flame under the fundamental issue of voting access.
The Washington state Legislature approved the measure despite Republicans’ objections to restoring the voting rights of those who are on parole or probation.
Wednesday’s bill was sponsored by state Rep. Tarra Simmons, who has a past conviction herself.
“Regaining the right to vote, after having lost so many things, meant more to me than most people could imagine,” she said in a statement after the bill was signed.
“This might seem a small thing to some people, but it’s a giant step for civil rights and it’s one that will give others what it gave me: a belief that I mattered, that I was once again a member of society, and that my freedom was worth preserving at all costs.”
Inslee specifically mentioned Simmons in a tweet Wednesday, praising her as someone who has “successfully and effectively used her own lived experience to benefit others.”
“This is a good day for democracy in Washington state,” the governor said.