by Jo Ellen Nott
On March 3, 2023, Governor Tim Walz signed legislation that will give 50,000 Minnesotans previously convicted of a felony immediate voting access. The bill restores political franchise to those who served their time without having to complete probation or parole.
Advocates of restoring rights to the formerly incarcerated hail the bill as a big win for restorative justice. DFLers (Democratic-Farm-Labor party members) in Minnesota have been advocating for the legislation for years. They contend that barring felons on parole or probation from voting violates the principle of no taxation without representation. They point out that the formerly imprisoned hold jobs, pay taxes, and want to be involved in their communities. They also argue that the disenfranchisement of felons is long standing systemic racial disparity.
Governor Walz remarked on the occasion of signing the bill that “we are in a country of second chances, we’re a country of welcoming people back in. 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.”
Jennifer Schroder is one of the 50,000 Minnesotans who has had her right to vote restored. She is also one of the four plaintiffs in a 2019 ACLU suit brought against Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon challenging the constitutionality of the state’s statute barring felons from voting if they have not completed their sentences.
Schroeder previously was convicted of first-degree sale of a controlled substance. The court stayed her sentence but put her on probation for 40 years. She did not appeal and under the former law would not have been eligible to vote until 2053 when she would turn 71. Thanks to the Restore the Vote bill, Schroder now has the most important civil right available to her to exercise.
As to be expected, Republicans have opposed the legislation, including Senator Warren Limmer from Maple Grove and Senator Mark Johnson of East Grand Forks. In a statement, Senator Johnson wrote, “Despite many campaign promises to address public safety, the bills today will do nothing to reduce violent crime. In fact, it opens our elections to being influenced by convicted felons and illegal immigrants.”
ACLU-MN Executive Director Deepinder Mayall applauded the legislation in his statement: “The goal of the criminal legal system is supposed to be rehabilitation, redemption and helping people rejoin their communities. While there is still much work to be done, this new law brings us one step closer to achieving this goal by giving people a voice and a vote in their own futures.”
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