The “Restore the Vote” legislation would allow people who committed serious offenses and served their time, but are still on probation or parole, to cast ballots.
More than 50,000 felons who are no longer incarcerated would have their right to vote restored under a bill expected to pass the Minnesota House.
The “Restore the Vote” legislation would allow people who committed serious offenses and served their time, but are still on probation or parole to cast ballots. It’s a measure Minnesota Democrats have been pushing for years, but that had stalled under divided government when Republicans led the Senate.
“It’s been a long time coming. It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, who is the chief sponsor of the bill, said before it was debated in the House Thursday.
Frazier added that it was fitting the bill would be debated the same day House lawmakers would vote to make Juneteenth a state holiday. After slavery was abolished, many states implemented laws to restrict the voting rights of Black people, he said.
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, speaks about a bill to restore voting rights to felons who’ve completed their incarceration but are still on probation or parole as Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, looks on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023 at the state Capitol in St. Paul. The Minnesota House of Representatives debated the bill Thursday. (Christopher Magan / Pioneer Press)
“Tonight we are going to acknowledge the history of that freedom and emancipation. We are also going to right some wrongs, remove some historic policies and barriers and allow folks to fully participate in the democratic process,” Frazier said.
Opponents of the bill say probation and parole are part of the total punishment a person receives when they are convicted of a felony.
They also argue fines, fees and restitution ordered by judges are part of the overall sentence and should be completed before rights are restored.
Republicans tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to include some voting limits with a focus on the most severe offenders, such as murders and rapists. They also questioned whether the victims of crime would support restoring voting rights before an entire sentence is completed.
“I don’t mind them voting when their debt to society is completed,” said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge. “We have many felonies when they never spend a day behind bars.”
‘Part of something’
One of the supporters of the bill at the Capitol Thursday was Naomi Gaines-Young, of Columbia Heights, who served 15 years after throwing her twin 14-month-old sons off the Wabasha Street Bridge in 2003 before jumping off herself. One of her sons died and Gaines-Young said during her trial she was suffering from severe mental illness and postpartum depression.
Outside the Minnesota House chamber Thursday, Gaines-Young said being able to vote again would help her as she rebuilds her life and tries to become a more involved member of the community. “It grounds me. It makes me feel like I’m part of something,” Gaines-Young said.
Similar legislation is pending in the Senate and also has the backing of Secretary of State Steve Simon. If it passes both chambers Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign it.
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