There’s a strong movement at the Capitol to liberalize Minnesota’s election law pertaining to felons voting.
Second Chance Coalition, the Minnesota Catholic Conference, and the Republican Liberty Caucus have come together to support HF 342/SF 355 which would reinstate a felon’s right to vote immediately after they are released from their incarceration. Current Minnesota law mirrors that of nineteen other states which require that a felon serve their full parole and probation before voting. An additional eleven states have laws that may result in a felon’s permanent loss of their right to vote. Thirteen states allow felons to vote immediately following their incarceration. Two states, Maine and Vermont, allow felons to vote absentee while serving time in prison.
The proposed legislation in Minnesota would also allow felons to vote immediately after being sentenced, even if they are not incarcerated, which comprises about 6% of cases according to the Department of Corrections and the Star Tribune. The proposed law would make no designations based on the crimes committed.
Minnesota does not classify felonies. Felonies include non-violent crimes like selling drugs, theft, check forgery, voter fraud, welfare fraud, and some DWI’s. They also include crimes like kidnapping, rape, domestic assault, criminal assault, and murder. While 1st degree murder in Minnesota is punishable by life in prison, 2nd and 3rd degree (unintentional) murder are not. Some states stipulate a process for rights to be restored based on the crime committed.
According to 2009 numbers compiled by MinnPost, time served in Minnesota prisons is significantly shorter than the national average, with the exception of drug offenses which matched the national average of 2.2 years. Violent offenders served 3.2 years time on average in Minnesota, compared to 5 years nationally. Minnesota’s shorter incarceration periods call into question restoring voting rights immediately upon release without serving the remainder of the sentence consisting of parole or probation.
The proposed law change would also require that a designated official at a state correctional facility provide a felon a voter registration application upon release. If the felon isn’t incarcerated for their crime, then their probation officer must do so.
Neighboring states like Iowa and South Dakota recently made their felon voting laws stricter. In 2011 Iowa’s Republican Governor, Terry Branstad, issued an executive order which rescinded a previous executive order from a Democrat Governor. Iowa felons now must wait until after parole or probation, pay back any monetary obligations to the state, and then apply for their voting rights to be restored. North Dakota’s current law is less restrictive than Minnesota’s and felons may vote immediately following their incarceration.
The proposed law would affect the estimated 47,000-50,000 felons released from jails or prisons in Minnesota, who are currently on probation or parole, but can’t vote today.
Hennepin County Attorney, Mike Freeman, has acted as an activist in support of the bill and testified on behalf of its passage. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput also supports the change and authored a resolution to the Washington County Board supporting new legislation. He believes too many resources are used to investigate voter fraud and told the county board that Minnesota should “get these folks back on track, back participating in civics.”
Criminal defense attorney Sen Bobby Joe Champion, D-Minneapolis is the chief sponsor of the bill in the Senate. State Senator Dan Hall, R-Burnsville. voted with the Democrat majority during a voice vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee in February to move the bill forward. The vote, and Hall’s support, demonstrate a shift for the Burnsville Republican who states on his current campaign website his concern with
felons voting. Key Republicans like Sen Brandon Petersen, D-Andover, Sen Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, andSen Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes have signed on as authors along with Champion and Sen Chris Eaton, D-Brooklyn Center.
Rep Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, is the chief sponsor of the House bill. In the House, Republican co-authors of the Bill include:
Rep Jerry Hertaus, R-Greenfield
Rep Joe McDonald, R-Delano
Rep Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River
Rep Denny McNamara, R-Hastings
Rep Jeff Howe, R-Rockville
Rep Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington
Rep Mary Franson, R-Alexandria stricken as an author on 4-27
Rep Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls
Rep Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake
Democrat authors include:
Rep Raymond Dehn, D-Minneapolis
Rep Dan Schoen, D-Cottage Grove
Rep Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul
Rep Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center
Rep Carly Melin, D-Hibbing
Rep Rena Moran, D-St. Paul
Rep Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul
Rep Susan Allen, D-Minneapolis
Rep Joe Mullery, D-Minneapolis
Rep JoAnn Ward, D-Woodbury
Rep Jim Davnie, D-Minneapolis
Rep Leon Lillei, D-North St. Paul
Rep Linda Slocum, D-Richfield
Rep John Persell, D-Bemidji
Rep Dave Pinto, D-St. Paul
Rep Sheldon Johnson, D-St. Paul
Rep Phyllis Kahn, D-Minneapolis
Rep Diane Loeffler, D-Minneapolis
Rep Alice Hausman, D-St. Paul
Rep Mike Freiberg, D-Golden Valley
Rep Jerry Newton, D-Coon Rapids
Rep Barb Yarusso, D-Shoreview
Rep Ben Lien, D-Moorhead
Rep Jennifer Schultz, D-Duluth
Rep Clark Johnson, D-North Mankato