Since there is no provision of a right to vote in the Bill of Rights, voting rights vary from state to state. Therefore, the state of Minnesota does not need to be a place that excludes a large number of citizens due to a criminal conviction.
The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions and it is democracy turned upside down (Dr. King, 1957). While this is an issue of principle, it should be duly noted that this is an issue that disproportionately impacts African American Minnesotans as they are seven times more likely to be disenfranchised than White Minnesotans.
It was Ida B. Wells-Barnett in 1900 who stated, “Advocates of the unwritten law boldly avowed their purpose to intimidate, suppress, and nullify the Negro’s right to vote.”
It was Nelson Mandela who stated, “I am vote-less because there is a parliament in this country,” referring to South Africa.
The fact that ex-offenders are not full members of society is rooted in the belief that when an individual breaks the law and is convicted of the crime, he or she has broken the social contract and cannot be forgiven. However, I wonder whether it is actually the crime committed, society’s inability to forgive, or whether legislators worry that the majority of those released will vote Democrat, that is the motivation behind the legislation.
Two researchers, Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, looked at more than 400 Senate elections since 1978 and noted had ex-felons been allowed to vote, seven of the elections would have had different outcomes. They further argued that the Democrats would have retained control of the Senate in the 1990s. Is it fair that the Republicans withhold a democratic value from citizens because it can potentially hurt their ability to maintain power and control?
Suppressing the right to vote seems criminal, especially when the majority of Americans support the restoration of voting rights for ex-offenders in the community after serving their time. The American Bar Association even weighed in stating that ex-inmates should be allowed to vote except when they are in prison.
While public opinion is highly important, it does not change the fact that voter disenfranchisement exists. Allowing ex-offenders the right to vote would’ve changed the course of America’s history. In the 2000 presidential election, Al Gore lost the key state of Florida by 537 votes. However, if disenfranchised ex-felons voted, Gore would have prevailed and would have been sworn in as the 43rd president of the United States.
Dr. King, 1957: “So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote, I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind — it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws that I have helped to enact — I can only submit to the edict of others.”
This subject is highly important to me because I was not allowed to vote for the 44th president of the United States due to being on probation. I could not cast a ballot for the first Black president in American history and I have to live with that.
Voter disenfranchisement is a serious form of oppression but the subjugation extends beyond casting a ballot. Ex-offenders are denied access to welfare benefits, public housing, education loans, and the right to serve on a jury or run for office. These barriers make it extremely difficult to find redemption. The subjugation resembles the Jim Crow laws.
To help restore the right to vote for 47,000 Minnesotans, please sign the petition.
Jason Marque Sole, Ph.D. candidate, is an adjunct professor in Metropolitan State University’s School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice. He welcomes reader responses to Jason.Sole@metrostate.edu or @ on Twitter.