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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Thursday June 20th 2024

Right to Vote Restored to 55,000 Paroled Felons

By THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS MINNEAPOLIS

On March 3rd Governor Tim Walz signed into law legislation that restores the vote to more than 55,000 formerly incarcerated Minnesotans. In the largest expansion of voting since 18-year-olds won the right to vote in 1972, Minnesota joins 22 other states to give felons their voting rights, once they have completed their prison term. Previously anyone serving on probation or parole had to finish that extended sentence before voting rights were restored. Walz called this “a good day for democracy. We’re a country of second chances…and the idea of not allowing those voices to have a say in the very governing of the communities they live in is simply unacceptable.”
After two decades of advocacy, a large coalition of groups sued the state for this constitutional right under the principle of no taxation without representation. One of the plaintiffs, Jennifer Schroeder, had served one year for a felony drug charge – but was given a 40 year probational sentence on her release. The language in the lawsuit pointed out that “the Plaintiffs have been deemed safe to live in their communities where they raise their children, contribute to Minnesota’s economic, cultural, religious, civic and political life, and pay taxes…but Minnesota denies plaintiffs an essential indicium of citizenship, the right to vote.” The Supreme Court ruled against the plaintiffs saying the law didn’t violate the state’s Constitution and sent it back to the Legislature. In response, Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis) and Representative Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) sponsored the Restore the Vote Act which successfully passed. Secretary of State Steve Simon is working with the Department of Corrections to spread the word about this new voting right. The bill requires that a written notice and a voter registration application be given to each of these individuals on their release from prison, and to alert them that as of July 1 they can register to vote in this year’s elections.
Why is this Act so important? According to the organization, National Voter Registration Day, felony disenfranchisement disproportionately represents Black, Latino, and Indigenous residents who are already overrepresented in the criminal justice system. It has played a role in disengaging future generations, as children are more likely to vote if their parents do. “People who are prohibited from voting, they have to pay their taxes, they have to obey all the laws…but they don’t have any choice in who represents them” said Attorney General Keith Ellison. “Now they do.”
A recent Commentary article in the Minnesota Reformer points out that restoring the vote will make Minnesota safer. “Many victims and survivors of violence want to disrupt the ongoing cycle of harm, punishment and isolation.” Having been “locked out of democracy…studies show that having the right to vote immediately after incarceration improves public safety. Community engagement can reduce future arrests for justice-impacted citizens…and reduce one’s perceived status as an ‘outsider.’” According to Christopher Uggen , a U of M professor of sociology who has made a study of felon voting rights: “This would really reduce the multiplier effect…where the pronounced disparities in criminal justice are leading to pronounced disparities in political power.”
For help getting the word out to family, friends, church and community groups, contact Secretary of State Steve Simon at steve.simon@state.mn.us. Help ensure that all those eligible to vote know about this right. Please check the Secretary of State website mnvotes.gov for updates on the guidelines for eligibility.
For information on voter registration and eligibility, voting deadlines and locations, questions about Ranked Choice Voting, and more, go to: vote.minneapolismn.gov. For education on this new law and to develop a voting plan contact vote@lwvmpls.org.

This is the second article in a series of six articles about the 2023 Minneapolis City Election, brought to you by the League of Women Voters Minneapolis. All articles available at lwvmpls.org/for-voters.

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