The Potluck

Bill to restore voting rights to people still on parole, probation passes Senate

By: - February 21, 2023 7:51 pm

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, chief author of restoring the right to vote legislation in the Senate. Photo courtesy of GLEN STUBBE • [email protected]

The Minnesota Senate passed a bill 35-30 Tuesday to restore voting rights to people still on parole or probation. The bill goes back to the House — where passage is expected — and then heads to Gov. Tim Walz, who’s said he’ll sign it.

“People in our communities are being taxed without being able to vote on their own representation,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. “It undermines the very concept of our union of the United States.” 

More than 50,000 Minnesotans would regain the right to vote if the bill (HF28) is signed into law. Minnesota law currently allows formerly incarcerated people to vote after finishing all 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. 

Advocates say preventing people on parole or probation from voting disproportionately affects people of color, particularly Black Americans. 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. 

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, introduced a litany of amendments to restrict people who have committed various crimes from voting, including violence, sex trafficking and child rape. Republicans said the amendments would support victims.

“People who have committed murder or manslaughter have permanently taken away their victim’s right to vote … but the criminal that committed that crime on them under this bill, is going to get their right back,” said Sen. Andrew Matthews, R-Princeton. 

Chief author of the bill Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, pointed to studies that show people are less likely to reoffend if they engage in civic activities like voting. He called the bill “pro-victim,” as victims’ rights groups like the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault support the bill. DFL lawmakers also said the length of time people are separated from the public was a matter for the courts. 

“When a person is in our community, they are deemed safe,” Champion said. 

Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, offered an amendment to prevent people from voting if they’re still on parole or probation for voting-related felony convictions, which are rare in Minnesota and across the country. Koran also introduced an amendment to create a two-year “waiting period” before those on probation would be allowed to vote. 

Sen. Gene Dornink, R-Brownsdale, offered an amendment that would have required people to pay any outstanding fees or fines related to their incarceration before their right to vote would be restored. Dornink said it was about making sure formerly incarcerated people pay their debt to society. DFL lawmakers called it a “poll tax.” 

After Florida voters restored voting rights to formerly incarcerated people in 2018, the GOP legislature there passed a law requiring people to pay court fines and fees before they could vote, which for many remained far out of reach given limited job prospects. 

All of the amendments introduced by Senate Republicans — which were similar to the amendments introduced by House Republicans failed to pass. 

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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.