Thousands of formerly incarcerated people in Minnesota woke up Saturday morning with a right they lacked the day prior.
On Friday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed House File 28, which restores the right to vote to convicted felons who complete their term of incarceration. According to the governor’s office, 55,000 individuals who previously were deprived of voting rights now can register to vote, the most significant expansion of that right in Minnesota in a half-century.
“Minnesotans who have completed time for their offenses and are living, working, and raising families in their communities deserve the right to vote,” Walz said.
The new law followed the unsuccessful legal challenge to state law, Schroeder v. Minnesota Secretary of State. The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled last month that the state constitution does not guarantee convicted felons the right to vote. House File 28 passed the Democratic-held Minnesota Senate and House following the court’s decision.
Under the new law, Department of Corrections or judiciary system officials will provide newly released persons a written notice and an application to vote.
“People who are prohibited from voting, they have to pay their taxes, they have to obey all the laws, they have to do everything, but they don’t have any choice in who represents them,” said Minnesota State Attorney General Keith Ellison. “Now they do.”
The passage of the Minnesota law follows a nationwide shift in voting policy to enfranchise those convicted of felonies. According to the nonprofit The Sentencing Project, roughly 4.6 million Americans are disenfranchised due to a prior felony conviction, a 24% decrease since 2016 due to the passage of several state policy changes, as well as a declining prison population through the pandemic.
Despite the change in Minnesota, 11 states still deprive convicted felons of their voting rights indefinitely for some crimes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, two states, Virginia and Kentucky, permanently deprive anyone convicted of a felony of the right to vote.
Over a million people convicted of felonies are still banned from voting in Florida, making the state the nation’s leader in felon disenfranchisement, according to The Sentencing Project, despite a 2018 ballot referendum when 65 percent of voters decided to restore voting rights in the state. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law months later requiring felons to pay outstanding legal financial obligations before being eligible to vote.
A total of 25 states ensure that felons have the right to vote, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.