Minnesotans lose the right to vote until they have been released from supervision, including while they are living in the community, even if they never spent any time in prison or only served a short jail sentence. In 2011, of the 63,000 Minnesotans who were unable to vote due to a past criminal conviction, only about 16,000 were behind bars in prison or jail. In other words, 75% of those who have been denied the right to vote under Minnesota law are living in the community, working to earn a wage and support their families, and paying taxes. 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, African-Americans and American Indians are disproportionately affected. In 2011, nearly 16,000 African-Americans, or roughly eight percent of African Americans who were old enough to vote, were disenfranchised. Although African-Americans make up roughly five percent of the Minnesota population, they represent over a quarter of the total number of those disenfranchised. American Indians make up less than two percent of the population, however, in 2011 American Indians comprised more than six percent of those disenfranchised.
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 and are living in their community to vote. By moving to this model, Minnesota will join thirteen states that disenfranchise only those persons who are incarcerated for a felony conviction: Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah. 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 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.
Voting Restoration One Page – print out this handy one-page flyer to hand out to anyone who may be interested in learning more about the coalition.