On Friday, March 3, Governor Tim Walz signed into law legislation that restores voting rights for more than 55,000 formerly incarcerated people in Minnesota, alongside legislators, faith leaders, labor, and community advocates. The Restore the Vote Act is the largest expansion of voting rights in the state in 50 years.
“Minnesotans who have completed time for their offenses and are living, working, and raising families in their communities deserve the right to vote,” said Governor Walz. “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.”
“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,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “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.”
The Chapter 12, House File 28 bill restores the civil right to vote to individuals who have been convicted of a felony upon their completion of any incarceration imposed and executed for the conviction. The bill also requires Department of Corrections or judiciary system officials to provide a written notice and a voter registration application to individuals upon their release from incarceration.
In support of the legislation, The Sentencing Project issued the following statement: “Our movement partners on the ground in Minnesota worked tirelessly to promote civic engagement across the state,” said Nicole D. Porter, senior director of advocacy at the organization. “This legislation is a shining example and beacon of hope for people nationwide seeking their voting rights after their involvement in the criminal legal system shut them out of our democracy.”
Driving Minnesota’s high rate of disenfranchisement is the number of people under community supervision. Historically, anyone with a felony serving probation, parole, or supervised release had to first finish their sentence before their right to vote could be restored.
The Minnesota Restore the Vote legislation ends this practice. Persons completing their sentence on probation and parole can now vote if they are not incarcerated.
Minnesota’s voting laws also disproportionately disenfranchise Black, Latino, and Indigenous residents who are overrepresented in the state’s criminal justice system. Black Minnesotans make up about seven percent of Minnesota’s population, but comprise 36 percent of the state’s prison population.
Racial disparities among people in Minnesota’s large community supervision programs are also significant. Restoring the vote helps to dismantle the legacy of “Jim Crow” laws by ensuring that people who have experienced imprisonment and criminalization are guaranteed a voice in our democracy.