In Minnesota, people convicted of felonies lose the right to vote both during the time they spend in prison and while they are on probation. Since Minnesota’s correctional system leans toward shorter prison sentences but long probation periods, people convicted of felonies may lose voting rights for much of their adult lives. For example, someone who gets a 2 year prison sentence and 20 years of probation loses voting rights for at least 22 years. They may live, look, and act like everyone else, but even years after committing a crime, many of our fellow citizens are denied the right to vote. This is a racial justice issue, because almost 44% of Minnesota’s prison inmates are Black or Native American, so the burden of voting denial falls much more heavily on communities of color and Native Americans.
There is no good reason to deny voting rights to people who are otherwise eligible, just because they are on probation or parole. Voting is a fundamental right that should not be denied except for very good cause. The policy is confusing to citizens and even to election officials. Worse, it makes people into second-class citizens, making it even harder for them to feel connected to their communities. As your Governor, I will work to make our election system easier to use, easier to administer, and more fair.
The week of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is a good time to re-commit ourselves to the causes to which the Reverend Dr. King devoted his life, including voting rights. Although the laws on the books may look equal, the impact of those laws may be very unequal. While eliminating all racial disparities in the criminal justice system will not be easy, this is one we can fix. We can and must let those who have served their time in prison vote again.