Arizona Secretary of State - Ken Bennett

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For Immediate Release
Jan. 29, 2010

Contact: Matthew Benson
Director of Communications
602-350-2834 - mobile

Twitter: @therealAZsos

Secretary Bennett: Don't let inmates vote
Court of Appeals decision could open ballot box to 41,000 Arizona felons

PHOENIX – The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay to a ruling of its own from weeks ago that would have cleared the way for felons to vote in the state of Washington.

The federal appeals court's initial ruling from early January would have serious implications for the state of Arizona , which has roughly 41,000 inmates housed within its prison system. Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett was pleased at the court's decision to enjoin its own ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether to take the case.

“State law bars prison inmates from voting in Arizona elections for a reason,” Bennett said. “Voting is a sacred right, a right these individuals forfeited when they committed a serious crime.”

In Arizona , inmates are barred from voting. Upon release, first-time felony offenders may have their voting rights restored after paying restitution and fines and re-registering. Repeat offenders or those convicted of multiple felonies can only have their voting rights restored by a court.

The Washington case began in 1996 when an inmate at the Washington State Penitentiary filed a lawsuit alleging that a state law barring inmates and parolees from voting was in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965. The suit alleged that because nonwhites constituted a large portion of the prison population in Washington, the law prohibiting them from voting served to dilute the electoral clout of minorities.

In 2000, a district judge in Spokane, Wash., ruled that the state voting prohibition was not in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this month, the federal court of appeals overturned the district court's ruling.

That decision is now on hold so the state of Washington can ask the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case.

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For all media questions, or to schedule an interview with Secretary Bennett, contact Matthew Benson, director of communications, at (602) 350-2834.

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