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.