DFL eyes felon’s voting rights

Published 10:12 am Thursday, April 28, 2016

Minnesota DFL senators are pushing to restore voting rights faster to felons.

An amendment tacked on to a larger elections bill Tuesday would restore the right to vote after a person is released from prison. The full bill later passed, but it faces unlikely odds in the Republican-controlled House.

Minnesota law does not allow felons to vote until they have served out their probation or parole.

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The switch would impact an estimated 47,000 people statewide.

It’s a familiar issue at the Legislature, where advocates have argued for years that voting is an integral part of a person’s return to society. A similar measure was stripped from the budget bill for courts and public safety agencies last year.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said he needs to evaluate the bill before forming a full opinion on it, but noted he thinks convicted felons need to be aware that as part of their conviction, their right to vote goes away.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he’d like to restore voting rights for people convicted of felonies, but he can’t.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed an executive order last week restoring felons’ voting rights in that state.

But Dayton told reporters Wednesday that legal counsel has told him he doesn’t have that unilateral authority in Minnesota.

Several Republican senators argued against the change. They said people who have committed felonies have disenfranchised themselves.

Freeborn County GOP Chairman Brian Hensley does not support allowing felons to vote until their full sentence is completed.

“Life has consequences, and when you decide to commit a crime, society imposes consequences,” Hensley said. “One of those consequences has been giving up your voting rights.”

Lawyer Kelly Dawn Martinez of Albert Lea said she supports allowing convicted felons to vote after a person is released from prison, noting criminal activity often provides only a snapshot of someone’s life. She said allowing convicted felons to vote will provide a more diverse voting base, noting convicted felons may be able to vote on justice issues that others might not be aware of.

Allowing felons to vote will help keep them from reoffending, and it will help them to become law-abiding citizens, she said.

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said the issue should be addressed next year so transportation and tax relief — two issues she has tabbed as priorities this legislative session — can be addressed.

—The Associated Press contributed to this report.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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