A few things Washington State Democrats ought to do next

1.CANNABIS CONVICTION REPARATION

Eminently achievable: Retroactive clearance of all marijuana misdemeanors.

Seattle actually already did this through City Attorney Pete Holmes earlier this year.

It may be more difficult for the legislature to do, or they might need to direct the state attorney, but unlike HB 1260 – 2017-18: “Providing for the vacation of misdemeanor marijuana offense convictions“, the focus should be on providing for this automatically instead of requiring often under-informed people to go through a process that necessarily is time-consuming and often costly.

Stretch goal: Extend clearances to felonies

This is a tougher sell because folk with say only “bad guys” got felonies but we know that’s not true, and undoing this harm would have an even bigger impact on housing and jobs.

Whether ounces or pounds, people shouldn’t continue to be punished for something we reward folk for doing now (i.e. Uncle Ike’s vs who used to be on 23rd and Union)

Ultimate goal: Divert recreational cannabis tax funds to a stipend for people with marijuana convictions

The exact formula would involve some tough math, but it ought to be proportional to their punishments: the most severe the punishment, the larger the ongoing payments.

While this would be helpful to lots of people whose lives were derailed by what we now know to be unjust convictions, it’s going to make a radical difference in the lives of the poorest people. Because the drug war has disproportionately targeted people of color, so will the benefits.

2. VOTING RIGHTS FOR PRISONERS

Eminently achievable: Restoration of voting rights should be automatic rather than requiring active effort.

At the very least, on your way out the door, signing all of the forms, one should be to update your voter registration.

People convicted of felonies should be actively encouraged to participate in civic rights, rather than just allowed if they put in extra work.

Stretch goal: Preserve voting rights while in jail and prison

Maine and Vermont already do this, probably because their population demographics allow them to empathize with prisoners rather than to dehumanize them as an Other. (Racism is a hell of a drug.)

But in that, we have a model that already that works, and considering Washington State already does everything by mail, it would actually be simpler. Telling prisoners, including federal prisoners, that their voice still matters even while they’re incarcerated is mostly symbolic, but it’s a symbol with the potential to have a powerful effect.

Ultimate goal: End the carceral state.

I lack the ability to imagine a world in which prisons no longer exist, so my definition is likely squishy too most people. In my imagination, a jail or prison’s whole point is to be so terribly nice you realize bad things happen in the world because people do bad things. Prisons should not reinforce that the world itself is bad and strong naturally take advantage of the weak.

(Plus the better you treat people, the easier it is to discipline us. We don’t much like having nice stuff taken away. This should be, like, TV time, though, rather than human rights.)

But you have to be doing a good enough job guaranteeing everyone healthy food, clean water, adequate shelter, and quality medical care that they don’t see prison as an improvement. If that’s the case, you don’t have a problem with your prison but with your society.  

3. AUTOMATIC STUDENT VOTER REGISTRATION

Eminently achievable: Continue to implement last year’s expansions.

I know this doesn’t really fit. With Manka Dhingra flipping the state senate, we actually already did same-day voter registration and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. That’s probably the most impactful thing for everyone, which includes students, so we’re on the right track.

Stretch goal: Register college students to vote as part of college registration. 

California did this in 2016, so we have an existing model. When university students register for state or community college, they also register (or update their registration) to where they’re currently living.

There’s no way to flip the 3rd or 5th Congressional District without eventually redistricting (the 10th could stand to be more competitive) or, immediately, getting more college voters. You can’t start out 12,000 votes down in the 3rd from Lewis County or 8,000 down from Stevens County in the 5th and make up those numbers if you’re not massively running up the score with your people somewhere else in the district. 

I’m having trouble finding updated voter registration and participation by age, rather than just Californians overall, so it’s possible this wouldn’t matter other than principle and getting in the practice of updating registration as you move.

For the same reason, expanding Seattle’s landlord packet requirement statewide, which includes a blank voter registration form, would be nice, too.

Ultimate goal: Lower the voting age to 13 (for state and lower elections).

There really isn’t an argument you can formulate against lowering the voting age to 13 that wasn’t made against lowering it to 18, or women or black men getting the right to vote, or insufficiently wealthy white men.

“They’re too emotional or intellectually ill-equipped” or even that “they’ll vote according to some more powerful person in their lives” is nothing new

I’ll take lowering voting to 16, of course, because that seems to be the common argument other people are making, but if we’re going to have any sort of arbitrary distinction, the switch from a dozen years to a dozen+1 makes the most sense to me. It also makes the most sense in terms of building a habit of civic participation, and would probably convince all their parents they ought be sure to vote, too.

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