Restoring the Vote Restores Dignity

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First Day of Session Twitter Storm

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Let’s send House Speaker Melissa Hortman, a friendly reminder to make voter restoration top priority in the house. #RestoreTheVoteMN

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, Minnesota is the 7th ranking state for individuals on probation or parole. Minnesota has over 100,000 individuals currently on some level on probation or parole. Letting people vote while on felony probation can lower their chances to recidivate. A safe Minnesota is a voting Minnesota. Protect the legacy of the federal Voting Rights Act while holding our public officials accountable.


Happy Holidays from Restore the Vote MN Coalition

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Holiday gift from Elizer Darris and Anika Bowie on Christmas Day!


Bail the Vote: RTV Minnesota advocates for voters in jail to activate their civil right to vote

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Its November 6th. Citizens are beating the drum of democracy with the national slogan “Get Out The Vote” to friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. The polling locations are filled with anticipated voters waiting to get the iconic “I voted” sticker. The battle of candidates will come to an end as Minnesotans find out who won the midterm elections. With their families or campaign team, eyes will be glued to the news outlets with fingers crossed for a result that will change the course of their futures, while others will be behind bars inside of county detention centers.

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Legislative Update: Restore the Vote scheduled for a hearing!

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H.F. 951, the voting rights restoration bill, has been scheduled for a hearing in the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance committee for Thursday, March 22, at 10:15 a.m. in 10 State Office Building. If you are interested in attending and coordinating with the coalition, contact Jana Kooren at or 651-485-5925.

H.F. 951 was introduced last session to the Minnesota House of Representatives. The bill would restore voting rights to the more than 50,000 people living and working in Minnesota who have had their voting rights taken away due to a felony conviction.


H.F. 951

Representatives Dehn, R.; Hertaus; Zerwas; McDonald; Moran; Omar; Maye Quade; Mariani; Cornish; Lee; Allen; Flanagan and Freiberg introduced:

  1. A bill for an act relating to public safety; restoring the civil right to vote to an individual upon release from incarceration or upon sentencing if no incarceration is imposed. The bill was read for the first time and referred to the Committee on Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance.


Here is the most up-to-date Fact Sheet with the list of RTV members on the second page.

Anika Bowie and Elizer Darris restores action at Second Chance Day on the Hill

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Blog shared from Goodwill Easter Seals

Every year during Second Chance Day on the Hill, Minnesotans come together to advocate for a fair shot for people with past involvement in the criminal justice system. Last year, 24% of Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota program participants cited their criminal history as one of their barriers to finding work. That’s why GESMN tailors its services for people with criminal records — and why we take a leadership role in advocacy around issues that keep them from contributing fully to their communities.

The top legislative priorities for the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition in 2018 are voting restoration (HF 951), and reducing the impact of fines and fees (HF 335633573358) and reducing length of felony probation periods. Sign up for our advocacy email list for alerts on what you can do to support these initiatives.

Keep scrolling for photos of the event, plus excerpts from speakers’ remarks which lend personal context to these legislative issues.

Microphone raised, Anika Bowie leads call and response from podium.

Anika Bowie leads call and response from the podium.


November 6 is election day, when millions of Americans participate in the driving force of this political engine, casting their ballots in demonstration of an America they are a part of. Because of their votes, “I, too, am America.”

April 16 is Tax Day, when millions of Americans participate in the driving force of this economic engine, filing their taxes in demonstration of an America they are a part of. Because through their taxes, “I, too, am America.”

But do we ever think about those who can’t? Those who pay taxes but can’t vote? Those who labor every week but can’t vote?

Second Chance Day attendees pose with homemade sign.


As we sit here today, 250,000 Minnesota driver’s licenses are either suspended or revoked. That’s 7.5% of all licenses issued in the state right now. That’s a quarter million people, our neighbors, who can’t legally drive to work, or to the grocery store, or to pick up their kids. That’s not the Minnesota we want.

Most license suspensions aren’t for violations that impact public safety. Many Minnesotans lose their licenses not for dangerous driving but because they couldn’t afford to pay their fines and fees to the courts. Today Minnesota still uses driver’s license suspension as punishment for nonpayment of parking and traffic tickets. That’s a system that punishes people for being poor. And it’s incredibly counterproductive to punish someone for not being able to pay a debt by making it harder for them to get to work, earn their income, support their family and pay their bills.

Second Chance Day attendees applaud a speaker.


In October of 2014, I was taking a left turn at a green light yield. I pulled out into the intersection, like I was taught in driving school. I was waiting for a break in traffic, giving me proper time to make the turn. As the light was turning yellow, the last car sped up instead of slowing down, causing me to have to wait longer. I was not able to complete my turn until the light was turning red.

I was given a ticket for obstructing traffic in an intersection, which cost me $135. I didn’t have the money to pay for this ticket. I didn’t know what the time-frame was, and I didn’t know what the consequences were. The following February I was pulled over, told my license was suspended and was given a driving after suspension ticket that cost me $200 — even though I was never notified of my suspension.

Unable to pay these fines, I received two more driving after suspension tickets, because I still had to drive for work. On one occasion, I was making a bank run as the only manager of a retail store. I had to wait until I had the money to pay off these tickets and ended up using my entire tax return paying off my debt. During this time, I was unable to drive for four months. Because I couldn’t drive, I wasn’t able to fulfill my duties as a store manager, which required me to make deliveries and daily bank runs. If I consistently missed these, I would have lost my job.

My auto insurance company ended up dropping me as a client, and I wasn’t able to find new insurance for less than $1,000 a month, if they accepted me at all. The total cost of these tickets, in addition to the increase to my auto insurance is $13,400 so far. I support these fines and fees campaigns.

Speaker and consultant Elizer Darris shares his story at the podium.


One of my responsibilities with the ACLU was to galvanize the base in order to have them show up to the polls, in order to have them engaged in the political process. The very same political process that right now I can’t vote in. I won’t be able to vote for at least seven more years, but I’m driving thousands of people to the polls. But I can’t vote. I pay taxes, but I can’t vote. I obey and abide by the laws, but I can’t vote. I subject myself and submit myself to this process, and I can’t vote in it.

But I have utter faith that we are going to restore the vote.

Second Chance Day attendee holds sign that reads "I paid my debt to society. Why am I still doing time?"
Second Chance Day attendee holds sign that reads, "Give me a second chance. I won't need a third."

MN Adult and Teen Challenge choir look down from second level of Capitol Rotunda.

Goodwill participants, employees and volunteers gather at the Capitol.

Jason Sole “How I fought to restore my voting rights — and why we should more quickly restore others”

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Photo Credit: Jason Marque Sole

I paid my debt to society over the years spent in prison. On probation, walking out the doors for the final time meant society and I were even. Or so I thought. New doors to housing discrimination and job discrimination opened in their place. Then I would learn that I couldn’t vote either.

When you’re released on probation, the clock starts as soon as the gate opens. Tick. Tock. You have 60 days to land a job and housing or return to a cell.

As the 2008 election started heating up and a black man who organized on the southside of my hometown of Chicago began to rise, the thought of not voting on Election Day began to eat at me. Watching the debates. Seeing the early poll numbers. Talking to my family on the phone about the possibility that a black man might actually become president.

I wasn’t one of the almost 70 million people who voted for Barack Obama. Or one of the 65 million who voted to keep him there four years later. I watched countless mayors and elected officials begin and end terms. All while I remained a spectator to our most democratic of processes. How could this be?

Because I’ve done wrong. And served my time. But I forgot that a felony conviction means a life sentence as a second-class citizen. Why was I so naïve?

I made good on my “second chance.” I am a homeowner. A father. A professor. An activist, speaker, volunteer. But most important, I am a taxpayer. Isn’t that what society wants? What else should I do to pay my debt?

“No taxation without representation.” Since my voting rights are terminated until I finish my Draconian 20-year probationary sentence (which ends in July of 2026), does that mean I’m tax exempt? Where’s this notion of fairness that the government speaks so highly of?

As a disenfranchised citizen, election days are the worst. I watch the excitement of voters, hoping they don’t ask me anything. “Hey Jason, did you make it to the polls yet?” Do I lie? Or do I share that I’ve made a few poor choices and therefore I’m not able to participate in the political process?

“Daddy, where’s your sticker?” Do I lie to my daughters? They can’t imagine their daddy committing a crime. Do I tell them before they need to know and risk damaging their belief in me?

Candidly, it’s daunting to be prevented from full engagement with my community due to modernized Jim Crow laws. My debt should’ve been paid when I was shackled from wrist-to-waist-to-ankles in transport. My debt should’ve been paid when I slaved for $0.25 an hour for months on end. My debt should’ve been paid when I spent 23 hours in solitary confinement. But it wasn’t. I had to reclaim my second-class citizenship by watching “good people” vote while I experienced Solitary Confinement 2.0.

I grew weary of experiencing the injustices inflicted upon returnees and started sharing my story. I embraced the scarlet F(elon) on election days so others could learn about disenfranchisement. This wasn’t easy for me, and the criticism hurled my way was immense. You do the crime, you do the time! You should’ve thought about your rights when you were selling drugs!

I read somewhere that children who don’t see their parents vote are less likely to vote themselves. I couldn’t let that be my girls. I couldn’t allow my mistakes to plague my children.

My commitment to restore my vote pushed me to search out loopholes in the system. Through extensive research, I learned that convicted felons can apply for something called “early termination of probation.” That’s it! I put the onus on my judge to completely remove my chains. On Jan. 5, 2016, with tears in my eyes, I began to pour my heart out:

To the Honorable Judge Elizabeth Martin:

I am writing this letter to seek an early termination of probation. In 2006, I was grateful to receive the 20-year probationary term, however, after completing nearly half of the term without any new criminal charges, I want to move forward with my dreams and aspirations.

Since 2006, I have accomplished a number of things. I am a proud husband and father of two beautiful daughters; I have completed a bachelors and masters in criminal justice and have completed my dissertation for my terminal degree; I am a criminal justice educator at Metropolitan State University as well as Hamline University; I am a national trainer, speaker, and consultant; and I am helping offenders and victims learn from my mistakes. I have made good on my second chance and want to terminate my probation so that I can enjoy more of life’s opportunities.

While I am sincerely remorseful for my actions, I am seeking to end my probationary term so that I can contribute more to society. First, I have been offered job assignments in other countries but due to my status, I can’t obtain a passport.  Secondly, I want to be able to vote and eventually run for the school board in my district. I have accomplished many things in a short amount of time but I feel there is much more for me to do. I hope you can find it in your heart to end my probation so that I can transcend my felony convictions and move on with my life.

I anguished for months waiting for her response. On March 23, 2016, I received the reply:

IT IS ORDERED that Jason Marque Sole is hereby discharged from probation, restored to all civil rights and full citizenship with full right to vote and hold office as if said conviction had not taken place.

Freedom. Liberation. Justice.

But still I wonder: Why isn’t there someone consistently committed to providing relief to probationers? Is that part of the game? Lock up people of color (particularly black people) so they can’t ever have political power? Could that be why seven states have lifetime bans on voting for people who’ve been convicted of crimes? With a system designed to oppress, how many people who are denied their rights to vote are innocent? Five percent? Ten percent? More?

Those of us who are poor and disenfranchised are consistently denied access to power. If the Constitution is committed to creating fairness and equality for ALL, how could I be denied voting rights when I pay taxes? Isn’t that criminal in nature?

While I am grateful I’m able to cast a ballot, there are 51,000 Minnesotans who will not be allowed to access this privilege on Nov. 7. It’s very difficult for me to revel in my legal status as a voter while others just like me are sidelined.

Statistics show that returnees who are civically engaged are less likely to reoffend. We all claim to want safer societies but refuse to take even the simplest of steps to make it a reality.

I now have that coveted sticker that proclaims, “I voted.” I’ve begun to show others how to end their ridiculous probationary sentences so they can wear one too. But where are the legislators who seek to uphold the values listed in the Constitution?

I disgraced my mother, my community, and myself when I committed my crimes. The Constitution of the United States continues to disgrace all Americans by taking taxes from the same citizens it simultaneously denies the right to vote.

Jason Marque Sole is a community leader, a professor, an author, and a father living — and voting — in Minnesota.