Rep. Jenny Graham and Rep. Michelle Caldier: Sex offenders in custody and felons do not deserve voting rights automatically restored
As survivors of horrific felony crimes, we are concerned the public safety pendulum, which for many years in Washington, demanded criminals be held accountable, justice be provided for victims, and laws be enacted to keep our streets and neighborhoods safer, is now swinging the other way these days – and not in a good way.
For example: By executive order, there is no longer a death penalty in our state. When COVID-19 hit last year, Gov. Inslee ordered more than 1,000 prisoners be released so social distancing would be easier for inmates, including hardened criminals with lengthy rap sheets, sex offenders, gang members and drug dealers. Legislation in the Senate would release convicted felons with life sentences after 20 years, including murderers, if they've behaved themselves in prison. Then there's the new State Supreme Court decision which essentially legalizes possession of all drugs in Washington, including heroin and fentanyl. None of these actions make Washington safer.
But now, a bill just passed the state House of Representatives that would reward convicted felons, including murderers and sex offenders, by restoring their voting rights.
House Bill 1078 would automatically restore voting rights of a person convicted of a felony when he or she is not serving a sentence of total confinement under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections (DOC). This includes felons under partial or community custody — even under house arrest and on home-monitoring equipment. It also removes provisions authorizing the revocation of provisional restoration of voting rights if there is willful disregard to pay their restitution and legal financial obligations.
Here's what few people know about this legislation: The bill would also restore the voting rights of the worst convicted sexual predators in our state who are still in custody. This includes dangerous sex offenders in civil commitment on McNeil Island.
How can this be? The Department of Social and Health Services, NOT the DOC listed on the bill, operates the Special Commitment Center that provides specialized mental health treatment for civilly committed sex offenders who have completed their prison sentences.
Those who have completed their prison sentences and are no longer in total confinement under DOC, such as these sex offenders under DSHS' custody, would have their voting rights restored if House Bill 1078 becomes law.
Currently, certain procedures are in place convicted felons may use to restore their voting rights in Washington state, including through court order, through a certificate of registration issued by the governor, through a final order of discharge issued by the state's Indeterminate Sentence Review Board, or a certificate of discharge issued by the sentencing court. Procedures are also in place to allow voting rights to be restored if felons are making a good-faith effort toward paying restitution and legal financial obligations. Released felons should be required to prove they are reformed before being allowed to vote, which is the purpose of these procedures. It should not be automatic.
This bill is offensive to every crime victim who has suffered under a felon's hands, and a slap in the face to every person and child assaulted and/or raped by a sex predator. When a person chooses to commit a felony — and yes, it is a choice — they choose to give up their freedoms. Restoring those freedoms should not come as easy as their choice to harm their victims.
Our voting rights are precious because they empower the people to decide the government of the people. Felons, especially sex offenders under lock and key, shouldn't automatically be empowered to vote and make the law for everyone else when they aren't willing to follow the law – which is why we vigorously oppose House Bill 1078 and encourage you tell your state lawmakers to do the same.
Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, represents the 26th Legislative District and is a sexual assault survivor. Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, represents the 6th Legislative District, and serves on the House Public Safety Committee. Graham's sister was murdered by the Green River Killer.