The Potluck

Conservative law firm challenges new law restoring voting rights to felons

By: - June 29, 2023 4:13 pm

Jafar Braylock, center, signs his Minnesota voter registration form at the Arlington Hills Community Center in St. Paul on Thursday June 1, 2023. Photo by Michelle Griffith/Minnesota Reformer.

A conservative law firm is challenging the constitutionality of a new Minnesota law restoring voting rights to felons once they’re released.

Previously, felons had to wait until they were off probation or parole and had paid their fines or restitution. About 55,000 Minnesotans who have been convicted of a felony but aren’t imprisoned are eligible to vote in the next election.

On behalf of a conservative outfit, Minnesota Voters Alliance, the Upper Midwest Law Center filed a lawsuit challenging the law, which went into effect in June.

The lawsuit argues the new statute exceeds the Legislature’s authority under the Minnesota Constitution, which says felons lose their right to vote until the right is restored to them. But it doesn’t specify the timing, so the DFL-controlled Legislature stepped in this session, restoring voting rights as soon as a person’s incarceration term is done.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, chief author of the House bill, released a statement saying he’s confident the lawsuit won’t prevail, calling it an attempt to suppress the franchise and create confusion and fear among those who have had their voting rights restored. 

“Although disappointed, I am not surprised by this lawsuit and I remain weary and highly skeptical of groups that seek to limit access to our democracy, as we all should,” he said. 

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in February that the previous law banning felons from voting was constitutional. The Upper Midwest Law Center said in a press release that the Supreme Court ruled civil rights are restored upon completion of a felon’s sentence, but the new law restores the right to vote to people still on supervised release, i.e., before their sentence is complete and “directly contradicting constitutional law.”

James Dickey, senior counsel for the law center, said in a release that felons on supervised release, work release or probation don’t meet the constitution’s requirements.

“If the Legislature wants to fundamentally change our constitution, they have an avenue to do that and can put a constitutional amendment before the people of Minnesota,” he said.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance bills itself as an election integrity watchdog and has sued Secretary of State Steve Simon and counties over election administration.

Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, is a national voting rights attorney and said she is not surprised to see the Minnesota Voters Alliance and the Upper Midwest Law center bring another lawsuit “in pursuit of their goal of rolling back the freedom to vote.”

“While I’m confident the right to vote for Minnesotans on probation and parole will survive this meritless challenge, this is a shameful attempt to use the legal system to sow doubt and confuse voters in order to suppress the vote,” she said. 

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.