Restoring the vote will make Minnesota safer
Gov. Tim Walz signs a bill giving Minnesotans on parole or probation the right to vote. Photo by Grace Deng / Minnesota Reformer
There’s a lot of conversation about what victims and survivors of violence want in Minnesota. Some of it might surprise you.
Today, rather than seeking punitive punishments, we applaud the passage of a major reform — Minnesota’s Restore the Vote Act. This legislation — signed by Gov. Tim Walz after it passed the House and Senate — expands voting rights to persons living in the community on probation and parole. By promoting civic engagement, we can reduce recidivism, support reintegration into our communities and make Minnesota a safer place to live.
Many victims and survivors of violence want to disrupt the ongoing cycle of harm, punishment and isolation. They want sustainable initiatives to build safer communities and prevent harm. They want funding for community services, safe housing, food, child care, and avenues for healing that can prevent crime from occurring in the first place.
They want safety.
Last year, research from The Sentencing Project found over 55,000 Minnesotans were locked out of democracy due to a felony conviction. That means that our state was denying the vote to more of its people with a felony conviction than three other states in the Upper Midwest. Driving Minnesota’s high rate of disenfranchisement was the state’s exclusion of people on probation and parole.
Studies show that having the right to vote immediately after incarceration improves public safety. People in states that continued to restrict the right to vote after incarceration were found to have a higher likelihood of a subsequent arrest compared to individuals in states where voting rights were restored post-incarceration.
Community engagement can also reduce future arrests for justice-impacted citizens. The University of Minnesota’s Christopher Uggen and New York University’s Jeff Manza find that among people with a prior arrest, there are “consistent differences between voters and non-voters in rates of subsequent arrest, incarceration, and self reported criminal behavior.”
The opportunity to participate in democracy has the potential to reduce one’s perceived status as an “outsider.” Guaranteeing the vote will meaningfully sustain positive influences on justice-impacted citizens by supporting feelings of belonging.
Disenfranchisement laws trace back to the nation’s founding. Initially, white, male property holders granted themselves the right to vote, excluding women, Black people, poor people, those who couldn’t read, and those with felony convictions. Most of those exclusions have been overturned, leaving felony disenfranchisement as a remaining obstacle to full participation in society.
The effect of these policies is distorted by the racial disparities in the criminal legal system. Black, Latino and Indigenous imprisonment are affected by racial profiling, skewed enforcement in the War on Drugs, and socioeconomic disparities that affect access to high-quality defense attorneys. High felony disenfranchisement rates among Black, Latino and Indigenous communities can deter household and community members from voting due to an overall decline in electoral engagement and confusion over eligibility, further diluting their political representation.
The passage of the Restore the Vote Act will require us to welcome justice-impacted citizens into the electorate to support their full participation.
Why is this important to make Minnesota safer? In part, this is what democracy is all about. Too many people impacted by incarceration are themselves victims and survivors of violence. Many also experience violence while in confinement. By expanding the ballot to justice-impacted citizens, we are undoing the effective silencing of victims and survivors and ensuring supporting their participation in the community. Re-enfranchisement can help fix that.
The Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition, the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Violence Free Minnesota, MN Children’s Alliance, Mending the Sacred Hoop and the Minnesota Alliance on Crime all supported this effort to expand voting rights to citizens on probation and parole.
Our coalitions represent over 200 programs serving more than 68,000 victims and survivors of violence. We advocate on behalf of our member organizations and individuals to lift the voices of victims/survivors at the Legislature and beyond.
Minnesota lawmakers have taken an important step to reinstate voting rights for those affected by the criminal legal system. Lawmakers should be applauded for doing their part to expand voting rights.
Now, we must work together to guarantee voting rights to all Minnesotants impacted by the Restore the Vote Act.
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