Felon Voter Rights Restoration Takes Big Tent

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The movement to restore the right to vote for convicted felons, after completion of prison term, but while still “on paper,” has attracted broad support on both sides of the political aisle at the Minnesota legislature and among groups that usually differ in philosophy. Pastor Jerry McAfee of the Restore The Vote Coalition described Minnesota’s ban on paroled felons from voting as a “perpetual punishment” past prison. “There is no religion I know of that consistently place(s) people in perpetual punishment.”

Minnesota ranks very high in the disfranchisement of voting rights for out-of-prison felons. Several citizens, including current Minneapolis DFL Representative Raymond Dehn, spoke of the personal effect of this rule at a press conference this week.

There are currently 47,000 individuals in Minnesota disenfranchised as a result of probation or parole status. 69% are white, 19% African Americans.

Parole more effective than jail

Republican Representative Jerry Hertaus said, “When you really coerce people into extended or long periods of probation to serve out that entire time really is unjust and unfair. Do we really want to be crowding our jails for double the time, or double the term people are sitting in there?”

Hertaus was referring to the long-time Minnesota practice of shorter prison sentences and longer probation time. Probation costs much less than incarceration and by many standards is far more effective than incarceration, but it has added to the length of the list of those denied voting rights.

Walter Hudson of the Republican Liberty Caucus says even the “uber conservative” voters of Wright County, where he lives, are surprisingly supportive of changing the law. He says a fellow Republican told him, “if we can’t trust people to vote, what are we doing releasing them into the community?”

The very broad support suggests a higher possibility of legislative change this session. This restoration of voting rights has already happened in North Dakota, Montana, Michigan and Illinois.

Bill Sorem

Bill Sorem is a longtime advertising professional who started with Campbell Mithun and ended up with his own agency. After a tour as a sailing fleet manager in the Virgin Islands he turned to database programming as an independent consultant. He has written sailing guides for the British Virgin Islands and Belize, and written for a number of blogs. In 2010, he volunteered as a citizen journalist with The UpTake and has stayed on as a video reporter.

2 thoughts on “Felon Voter Rights Restoration Takes Big Tent

  1. If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you
    can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do
    when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not
    automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most
    people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website
    here
    http://www.ceousa.org/voting/voting-news/felon-voting/538-answering-the-challenges-to-felon-disenfranchisement ] and our congressional testimony here: [ http://judiciary.house.gov/_files/hearings/pdf/Clegg100316.pdf ]