House passes bill to restore voting rights to people released from prison

Senate passage still needed

By: - February 2, 2023 7:46 pm

Rep. Cedrick Frazier addresses the media Feb. 2 ahead of House Floor debate on HF28. The bill, which later passed the House, would restore voting rights to people convicted of a felony upon their release from incarceration. Photo by Catherine Davis/Session Daily.

The Minnesota House passed a bill to restore voting rights to people still on parole or probation. The bill heads to the state Senate for a vote.  

“People for years and sometimes decades have no stake, have no investment, have no way to be heard,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon at a press conference ahead of the vote. “After this bill passes, they will have that voice. They will have that power. They will reclaim that for themselves.”

More than 50,000 Minnesotans would be able to vote if the bill (HF28) is signed into law. Current Minnesota law allows formerly incarcerated people to vote after finishing every part of their sentence, including probation, parole or any form of supervised release. Minnesota has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country but some of the longest probationary periods of any state. 

Restoring the right to vote is part of the Democratic push to expand voting rights, as Republican states across the country have sought to restrict voting by eliminating ballot drop boxes and shortening early voting periods. 

“As a system set up on representation, if we can’t all participate, we can’t truly be representative of everyone in our state,” said chief author of the bill Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope. 

Advocates say preventing people on parole or probation from voting disproportionately affects people of color, particularly Black Americans, and pointed to studies that show people are less likely to reoffend if they engage in civic activities like voting. On the House floor, Frazier connected his bill to the history of legislators excluding people of color from voting. 

Two states and the District of Columbia allow incarcerated people to retain their voting rights while in prison, while 21 states restore voting rights automatically upon release. 

Republicans talked about crimes, and said that the people who committed them should not be allowed to vote. Democrats spoke about their own friends or people they met who are on parole or probation. 

Republicans attempted to pass an amendment that would prevent people on parole or probation for murder or sex crime convictions from voting, calling themselves victim’s rights advocates. Chief author Rep. Frazier said restricting “one-off” situations was not in the spirit of the bill. 

“I heard the testimony from the domestic violence organizations and whatever that the victims are for this,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. “I would like to know what data they used to say that. Did they interview all the victims? What about the dead victims? They aren’t getting a voice in this.” 

Several victims’ rights groups — including the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault — are in support of restoring the right to vote for anyone on probation or parole. 

Republicans also introduced amendments related to voting fraud — a common GOP talking point that is rare in practice — including an amendment to prevent people from voting if they’re still on parole or probation for elections or voting-related felony convictions. 

“We should choose to protect the sanctity of our vote,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch. “It is a red herring to say that somehow this is shaming people. Well I’m sorry, you’ve already gotten a felony conviction. You should maybe be a little ashamed of the behavior you engaged in to receive that felony conviction.”

The bill passed 71-59.

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng was a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They studied legal studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.