Your Take: Getting Back the Right to Vote

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund will argue in an appeals court in San Francisco today that the state of Washington's denial of voting rights to convicted felons is rooted in discrimination.

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The plaintiffs in this lawsuit have never objected to the right of states to disfranchise individuals for certain criminal offenses. Nor have they argued that racially disproportionate outcomes are, by themselves, enough to demonstrate a violation of federal law. 

But what the evidence shows is that the racial disparities in Washington's criminal justice system do not reflect actual rates of participation in criminal activity, but rather are attributable to racial bias. As a panel of the Federal Court of Appeals concluded earlier this year, the Voting Rights Act "demands that such racial discrimination not spread to the ballot box." The 9th Circuit should affirm this basic principle: that racial discrimination should play no role in determining who may exercise the most precious right that a citizen has in our democracy.

John Payton is director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF). LDF and University Legal Assistance at Gonzaga School of Law represent the plaintiffs in Farrakhan v. Gregoire.

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