(The Center Square) – Gov. Tim Walz signed into law a bill to expand voting rights for about 55,000 convicted felons in Minnesota who are on parole or probation.
“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 in a statement. “As a state that consistently ranks among the top three in voter turnout, Minnesota will continue to lead in the fight to protect and expand the right to vote.”
The Minnesota Senate passed the bill on a vote of 35-30, while the House approved it 72-58. Previous law required convicted felons to regain voting rights after the person was fully discharged, meaning they completed probation or parole.
House File 28 restores the right to vote to convicted felons upon their completion of any incarceration imposed for the conviction. The bill also requires the Department of Corrections or judiciary system officials to provide written notice and a voter registration application to individuals upon their release from incarceration.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the right to vote “forms the core of American democracy.”
“A strong, vibrant democracy requires the broadest possible base of voter participation,” Hortman said in a statement. “Minnesotans who’ve served their time and are living in their communities should be allowed to vote.”
Democrats hold a political trifecta in Minnesota.
Senate Republicans offered failed amendments aiming to require at least a two-year wait for voting rights restoration, regardless of probation length, as well as to prevent some violent criminals and those convicted of felony voter fraud from regaining their right to vote until both incarceration and probation are completed.
Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, opposed part of the legislation.
“Minnesota families are expecting legislators to develop solutions to reduce record-breaking crime and violence. Instead, Minnesota Senate Democrats are leaving Minnesotans vulnerable by focusing on providing full state privileges and benefits of convicted felons and non-citizens here illegally,” Johnson said in a statement. “Despite many campaign promises to address public safety, the bills today will do nothing to reduce violent crime. In fact, it opens our elections to being influenced by convicted felons and illegal immigrants. I really hope the Democrat Majority rethinks their priorities and starts to put Minnesotan’s safety first and foremost.”
Nicole D. Porter, senior director of advocacy at the Sentencing Project, welcomed the bill's passage.
“Our movement partners on the ground in Minnesota worked tirelessly to promote civic engagement across the state,” Porter said in a statement. “This legislation is a shining example and beacon of hope for people nationwide seeking their voting rights after their involvement in the criminal legal system shut them out of our democracy.”