On March 3, 2023, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed into law SF26/HF28, also known as the “Restore the Vote” act. The bill, which was passed by Democratic majorities in the state House and Senate, allows ex-felons to vote immediately upon leaving prison instead of waiting until completion of any parole or probation terms.
Additionally, the law requires prison and jail officials to inform prisoners at release about their voting rights and provide them with registration documents. It went into effect on July 1, 2023, part of a national struggle to reform felon disenfranchisement laws — which trace their origins to racist measures passed during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War to ensure that newly freed slaves convicted under Jim Crow laws could not vote.
Passage of the bill followed a ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court on February 15, 2023, turning back a challenge to the prior version of the state’s disenfranchisement law for doing what the new law disallows: barring people on parole or probation from voting. The Court upheld the statute, finding it did not violate equal protection provisions of Minnesota’s constitution. However, the justices acknowledged “the troubling consequences, including the disparate racial impacts, flowing from the disenfranchisement of persons convicted of a felony,” and noted the state legislature “retains the power to respond to those consequences.” The plaintiffs in that suit were represented by attorneys from the state and national arms of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Minneapolis firm of Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. See: Schroeder v. Simon, 985 N.W.2d 529 (Minn. 2023).
“The individuals impacted by this bill — Restore the Vote — are paying taxes, raising families, and contributing to the communities,” observed Senate President and bill sponsor Bobby Joe Champion (D-Minneapolis). “They should be allowed to vote.”
He further cited research indicating that allowing ex-offenders to vote correlates with a decrease in recidivism rates. Under the revised voting rights law, Minn. Stat. 2022, Sec. 201.014, felons will be denied the right to vote only while incarcerated. GOP lawmakers unsuccessfully tried to limit the bill to exclude ex-felons convicted of certain violent crimes, even though no one explained what the nature of such an offense has to do with voting rights.
At least 22 other states allow former felons to vote while on probation or parole. Two more, Maine and Vermont – plus the District of Columbia – allow prisoners to vote while still incarcerated. Still 4.6 million Americans are barred from voting by a felony conviction, a number that has grown four-fold in just 50 years.
Additional sources: CNN, Prison Policy Initiative
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