Felons in Minnesota are now eligible to vote immediately upon release from incarceration after Democrat Gov. Tim Walz signed the “Restore the Vote” bill into law on March 3.
“Minnesotans who have completed time for their offenses and are living, working, and raising families in their communities deserve the right to vote. As a state that consistently ranks among the top three in voter turnout, Minnesota will continue to lead in the fight to protect and expand the right to vote,” Gov. Walz said in a press release.
“I am grateful to the community members, organizers, and legislators who are committed to strengthening the freedom to vote and ensuring every Minnesotan has a voice in our democracy.”
The passage in the state’s Senate the week prior came after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the state Constitution didn’t guarantee convicted felons the right to vote and that the state Legislature would ultimately make a decision on the issue.
As the law currently stands, felons who have completed their prison term but remain on felony supervision or probation are prevented from voting.
The bill goes into effect on July 1 and is estimated to apply over 55,000 convicted felons in the state, according to the press release.
“Voting is one of the most basic building blocks of our democracy. By restoring voting rights for formerly incarcerated Minnesotans, we continue down a path of restorative justice for Minnesotans who have been historically and systemically disenfranchised,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said in the release.
“I cannot overstate the work of the countless organizers, community leaders, and advocates who never gave up the fight. Our democracy is stronger thanks to your work.”
Under the new law, Department of Corrections or judiciary system officials will provide newly released persons a written notice of their rights to vote following their time served and an application to vote.
According to KWLM, in debating the legislation, Republicans had wanted the added stipulation that those convicted of serious crimes first complete their probation before regaining the right to vote. But Democrats insisted that individuals have their voting rights restored immediately following their release.
In a post on Twitter, the Minnesota Republican Party said the legislation “undermines safe and secure elections and empowers violent criminals over law-abiding citizens.”
They also wrote in the same thread that the GOP criticized Democrats in the legislature for killing “legislation to require murderers and rapists to complete their sentences before becoming eligible to vote.”
Felon Voting Rights Around the Nation
Currently, 21 other states restore the voting rights of felons once they leave prison, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including Republican-led North Dakota, Indiana, and Utah.
In Maine, Vermont, and the District of Columbia, convicted felons are allowed to vote while they are still incarcerated, irrespective of their crimes—a situation some California lawmakers are currently looking to legalize in their state.
In 16 states, felons lose their voting rights while incarcerated and for a period of time after, according to the NCSL. Eleven other states completely strip felons of voting rights for some crimes, or require a pardon by the state’s governor or other action for rights to be restored.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, two of those 11 states, Virginia and Kentucky, permanently deprive anyone convicted of a felony of the right to vote.
In Minnesota, a separate bill known as the “Driver’s License for All” bill (pdf) was also approved at the same time as the voting bill by the Senate. It passed the House in January but changes made by the senate must be approved again by the House before it is sent to Gov. Walz, who has indicated he will sign the legislation, according to media reports.
The legislation specifies that an applicant for a “noncompliant” license or identification card “is not required to demonstrate United States citizenship or lawful presence in the United States.”
While Democrats argue that the measure will “make roads safer,” Republicans raised concerns that illegal immigrants and potential terrorists could exploit the law to get access to voting and fly illegally, and sought to amend the text to prevent that.
Samantha Flom and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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