Minnesotans lose the right to vote until they have been released from felony-level supervision, including while they are living in the community, even if they never spent any time in prison or jail. In 2022, that meant nearly 50,000 Minnesotans who are going to work and school, paying taxes and raising families, were unable to cast a ballot. The number of people disenfranchised has greatly increased in recent years because felony convictions and sentence lengths, especially for drug offenses, have exploded. Since 1974, the percentage of voting-age Minnesotans disenfranchised as a result of a criminal conviction has increased over 400%.
Felony disenfranchisement prevents Minnesotans with criminal convictions from having a stake in their communities, and a voice in decisions that affect all aspects of their lives. Although felony disenfranchisement impacts a growing number of all Minnesotans, as a result of disproportionate contact with the criminal justice system, Black and Indigenous people in Minnesota are disproportionately affected. Restoring the vote would re-enfranchise approximately 4% of Black Minnesotans and nearly 5% of American Indian voters.
This has long-lasting repercussions for the community: research has shown that children are more likely to vote as adults if they are raised by parents who engage in the voting process. By disenfranchising people who are not behind bars, we lose not only the voice of those directly impacted by disenfranchisement; we also discourage participation by future generations.
Minnesota should pass legislation to allow people who have served their time, are currently on felony probation or parole, and are living in their community to vote. By moving to this model, Minnesota will join states across the nation in restoring people to restore communities: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia. This reform will promote successful reintegration into the community, as voting can be a powerful, concrete and symbolic way to contribute to one’s community and to feel invested and empowered to play a positive role. Research has shown that persons with criminal convictions in their past are less likely to be arrested again in states that restore voting rights after release from incarceration than in states where they face permanent disenfranchisement. Law enforcement and corrections professionals therefore agree that encouraging individuals to take on this important responsibility makes sense. Additionally, a policy that permits all individuals who have served their time in jail or prison to vote reduces confusion among voters and election officials about who can vote, thereby easing election administration and reducing government costs.
Restoring the right to vote for those living in the community who are on felony probation or parole will positively engage more people in the democratic process, make the law clear and save resources, and ultimately make all Minnesota communities safer and more just.