Letters to the Editor

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VOTING: Grant felons the right to vote

Letter by Samuel Merrill, Olympia on July 1, 2010 at 3:24 pm | 22 Comments »
July 6, 2010 10:28 am

Re: “’The New Jim Crow’ a must-read on injustice in America” (Leonard Pitts Jr. column, 6-27).

This column relates to a prominent issue in Washington state.

In her new book, “The New Jim Crow,” Michelle Alexander shows that the mass incarceration of black men for nonviolent drug offenses is out of all proportion to the number of crimes committed by racial groups. The National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse report similar percentages of blacks and whites as current users of illegal drugs and suggest the same is true for those selling drugs, yet black incarceration rates in Washington state are six time those for non-Hispanic whites.

As a consequence of this racial imbalance, Alexander contends, laws making it legal to discriminate against felons in housing, employment, education and voting constitute a new racial caste system likened to the segregation of the Jim Crow era.

With regard to voting, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reached the same conclusion, ruling that because of racial bias pervading our state’s criminal justice system, felons in Washington may no longer be denied the right to vote.

It will take many years to undo racial discrimination in the criminal justice system in Washington and other states. Granting the right to vote to felons, as is now done in Maine and Vermont, would be a first step towards dismantling mass incarceration with its devastating impact on communities of color in Washington state.

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