ST. PAUL, MN – Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL- Minneapolis), Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Minneapolis), and a large group of advocates held a press conference today to highlight legislation to restore the right to vote for people who have served time and are living in their community. By moving to this model, Minnesota will join the 13 states that have taken this major step toward making sure access to democracy, representation, and rehabilitation in society is possible for all Americans.
Currently, Minnesotans lose the right to vote until they have been released from probation or supervision, including while they are living in the community, even if they never spent any time in prison or only served a short sentence. People can lose their right to vote for decades.
“This unfair law disenfranchises more than 53,000 people who are living in our communities; they are unable to vote due to a felony conviction on their record,” Sen. Champion said. “This legislation would allow citizens to vote after they are released from jail rather than waiting for the date they complete parole or supervised release, which can be many years. This policy unnecessarily and excessively discourages positive participation in society, perpetuates racial disparities, and adds cost and complications to voting.”
Studies show that restoring the vote to people with past felony convictions can produce tangible benefits for both individuals and our communities. Allowing people to vote may help to reduce recidivism – research links pro-social activities like voting to desistance in crime. In addition, the right to vote forms the core of American democracy.
“We have a law that says a person is safe enough to live in our community but still too dangerous to be a voter,” said Secretary of State Steve Simon. “That’s ridiculous. Shutting out those who have already done their time does not make us safer. Investing in democracy means investing in Minnesotans working to rebuild their lives to ensure they have a voice in their community.”
“Our history is marked by successful struggles to expand the franchise, to include those previously barred from the electorate because of race, class, or gender,” Rep. Dehn said. “This legislation to restore voting rights builds a stronger democracy, advances civil rights, ends second-class citizenship, aids law enforcement, empowers family and communities, and assures fair and accurate voter rolls.”
“To what end do we not allow people to vote? What good is it serving? First, they’re locked up. Now they’re locked out,” said Rev. Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church and ISAIAH. “It is incredibly important that we are offering redemption to all of our community members. One essential way to do that is to restore their freedom to civically engage.”
Other advocates who spoke at the press conference include: Anika Bowie of Restore the Vote Minnesota Coalition; Commissioner Schnell of the DOC; Ramsey County Attorney John Choi; Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman; Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter; Pastor Brian Herron of ISAIAH; Jennifer J. Polzin, CEO of the Tubman Center; Max Rymer, a director with the Republican Liberty Caucus; and persons impacted by the current law, George Gipson and Danny Givens.