The Potluck

Voting rights restored to Minnesotans still on parole, probation

By: - June 1, 2023 3:05 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.

Over 55,000 Minnesotans were granted the right to vote after a law passed by the Legislature this session went into effect Thursday.

Minnesotans convicted of a felony who are not incarcerated — whether they are out on probation, parole or work release — are now eligible to vote and can register to do so for the next election.

“Up until this point, I didn’t think that I was going to be able to vote until I was 71 years old because of a 40-year probation sentence,” said Jennifer Schroeder, who was convicted of drug possession, served one year in prison and was sentenced to 40 years of probation.

Schroeder also was a plaintiff in a lawsuit in which the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in February that it wasn’t unconstitutional to bar felons from voting.

Secretary of State Steve Simon handed out “I Will Vote” stickers at the Arlington Hills Community Center in St. Paul Thursday to the people who were formerly incarcerated and registered to vote. Simon said the next step will be letting the formerly incarcerated know they were given back the right to vote.

“We’re determined to make sure that everyone who’s newly enfranchised understands and appreciates and ultimately — we hope — will choose to use these newfound rights,” Simon said.

Advocates with a grassroots group called Restore the Vote said they will begin a door knocking campaign to let people know about the new law.

New Hope Democrat Rep. Cedrick Frazier, chief author of the House’s bill to restore voting rights, said giving back voting rights to the formerly incarcerated was one of the DFL’s top priorities this session.

“What we know is strong and enduring democracies — they allow for the voices of the people to be heard,” Frazier said.

Simon said Minnesota’s voter registration forms have now changed — they previously required people to attest, under the penalty of perjury, that they were not serving any part of a felony sentence. This is no longer on the state’s voter registration forms.

The Legislature this session also passed a law that automatically registers people to vote when they complete applications with the state for things like a driver’s license, MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance or benefits with another agency. 

Simon said that the previously incarcerated would be automatically registered to vote once his office gets automatic registration operational, which could be sometime before the 2024  election. Under the bill, automatic voter registration goes into effect when the secretary of state’s office says its system is ready.

Frazier was asked if he believed people currently incarcerated should be allowed to vote. He said lawmakers are having conversations about it.  “We should absolutely look at ways of how we can always make sure that democracy includes every voice,” he said.

Asked the same question, Simon said he wasn’t sure he supported allowing incarcerated people to vote and said that question is “in the hands of the legislators.”

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.