Minnesota Democrats want to join just a handful of states where felons never lose their right to vote.
This was revealed during a House floor debate Thursday night, which saw the passage of Rep. Cedrick Frazier’s, DFL-New Hope, bill to restore voting rights to felons once they are released from incarceration. Under current law, felons are not allowed to vote until they complete their entire sentence, including probation and parole.
All but two Republicans — Reps. Danny Nadeau and Andrew Myers — voted against the legislation. House Republicans said the bill is a bad idea because of Minnesota’s status as a low-incarceration state.
“The very first bill having anything to do with crime to be brought to the House floor this year is restoring voting rights in a state that incarcerates people at half the rate of the national average,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch.
She described the DFL’s arguments in favor of the bill as a “red herring” because many of Minnesota’s offenders aren’t actually spending any time in prison.
“We’ve heard phrases like, ‘Folks who are returning to society,’ ‘People who have served their time.’ We’ve heard the phrase, ‘When they are released.’ We’ve heard lots of these phrases, but here’s the problem: In the state of Minnesota, many of these people never serve time,” she said.
Here are some examples:
- Rochester man sentenced to probation in child porn case
- Man charged with 12 counts of child porn gets probation, $140 fine
- Minnesota man sentenced to 60 days in jail, 10 years probation for raping 13-year-old girl
- Leon Bond sentenced to probation for third-degree murder
- No prison time for Austin man under plea deal on child porn charges
- Violent crime victim seeks justice after suspect gets ‘slap on the wrist’
- Plea deal: No prison time for former principal who tried to pay for sex with minor
- Rochester man gets 180 days in jail for raping two girls
“In the state of Minnesota, we choose to use probation as a punishment instead of incarceration,” Neu Brindley said.
In 2019, 40% of those who were convicted of crimes with a presumptive prison sentence were never incarcerated, she said. Another 28% of people who were convicted of criminal sexual conduct were never incarcerated.
Frazier’s bill states that any individual who is “ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction has the civil right to vote restored during any period when the individual is not incarcerated for the offense.”
“We have a theme in this chamber right now: just close your eyes and plow through. Good policy be damned,” Neu Brindley commented.
Democrats, however, don’t think Frazier’s legislation goes far enough. They admitted throughout the night that they believe criminals should never lose their right to vote, even while incarcerated.
“I also believe that inmates, who are citizens, who are counted in the census, and who are still subjected to involuntary servitude, also deserve the right to vote while imprisoned. I urge members to embrace truly universal suffrage for all Minnesotan citizens,” Rep. Andy Smith, DFL-Rochester, said in a statement.
Voting is a cornerstone of our democracy, and all adult citizens deserve that fundamental right; including the incarcerated.#UniversalSuffrage #RighttoVote #VotingRights #mn #mnleg pic.twitter.com/IS23hFVMxl
— Rep. Andy Smith (@AndySmithMN) February 3, 2023
This is the policy of just two other states and the District of Columbia. In 21 states, felons’ voting rights are restored once they are on probation or parole. In 26 states, felons lose their voting rights indefinitely or for the entirety of their sentence.
Something remarkable happened while we were debating #RestoreTheVoteMN this week. After years selling this as a way to reintroduce convicts into the community – a premise I have sympathized with, Rep. Frazier revealed the true goal is voting rights for the *incarcerated*. pic.twitter.com/wE4OGdHour
— Walter Hudson (@WalterHudson) February 4, 2023
Democrats also rejected an amendment to prevent murderers and rapists who are on probation or parole from voting.
Pic 1: My proposed Amendment to NOT ALLOW Murderers & Rapists to vote until they have served their full sentence.
Pic 2: The highlighted MN Representatives who believe Murderers & Rapists should vote before they have served their full sentence. pic.twitter.com/74GdmdRx1D
— Elliott Engen (@elliottengenMN) February 2, 2023
The bill was heard in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee Friday, where Democrat Secretary of State Steve Simon testified in favor of the legislation.
“[If people are] safe enough and worthy enough to be among us, surely they’re worthy enough to have a say and a stake in what happens to them,” he said.
Bill sponsors said the legislation will impact about 55,000 Minnesotans.