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Not Behind Bars, But Still Barred from Voting

PHOTO: The Restore the Vote coalition wants felons to be able to vote once they've been released from jail or prison, in order to give them a voice in the communities where they live and work while they're on probation. Photo credit: Steven Depolo/Flickr.
PHOTO: The Restore the Vote coalition wants felons to be able to vote once they've been released from jail or prison, in order to give them a voice in the communities where they live and work while they're on probation. Photo credit: Steven Depolo/Flickr.
October 7, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. - As voters prepare to head to the polls next month, a campaign is underway to restore voting privileges for some 50,000 Minnesotans who have been in trouble with the law.

Currently, those convicted of a felony are unable to regain their ability to vote until they are no longer on probation or under supervision. But according to Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, felons should be able to cast a ballot once they're out of jail or prison and back in the community.

"The criminal justice system should be more than just about punishment," says Adkins. "It should be about responsibility for sure and holding people accountable, but also about rehabilitation and restoration to the community. If we want people to be able to be restored to the community and exercise responsible citizenship, we need to help make them stakeholders again."

The Minnesota Catholic Conference is one of about 50 organizations working to change the law through the Restore the Vote coalition, which also includes the Minnesota Corrections Association and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.

According to Mark Haase, Restore the Vote coordinator, the broad support among coalition partners comes from their recognition of the need for disenfranchised voters to have a voice, and to be engaged in the communities where they live and work - thereby making them less likely to re-offend.

Haase also notes the number of Minnesotans impacted has greatly increased in recent years - along with felony convictions and sentence lengths - especially for drug offenses.

"Minnesota has the eighth highest rate of people under correctional control in the country," says Haase. "The percentage of people that are disenfranchised for felony conviction has increased over 300 percent in the last 30 years."

Haase says 13 other states, including North Dakota, disenfranchise only those who are incarcerated under a felony conviction. Legislation to make that Minnesota's model will again come before lawmakers in the 2015 session.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN