A new law that took effect last year that automatically restores voting rights to people with felony convictions the moment they exit prison in Washington – a change that expanded the franchise to more than 12,000 Washingtonians on probation and parole, along with an indeterminate number who owe court fines.
But of more than 24,000 state residents with past felony convictions now eligible, just 414 cast ballots in the midterm elections, according to the Office of the Secretary of State. Less than one in 10 eligible voters with past felonies have registered so far.
Voting-rights advocates attribute the low turnout in the first election since the law changed to the many barriers facing those reentering society after years of incarceration. This is compounded by lack of prominent and frequent news coverage, as well as the newness of the law and the still-pervasive idea that voting rights never return after felony convictions.