Convicted of a crime? Maybe you CAN vote

After all the hand-wringing about illegal voting, turns out that many people who have been convicted of crimes in Minnesota are still eligible to vote. That’s one of several interesting bits of information coming out of Minneapolis city council member Elizabeth Glidden’s early morning meeting September 28 on challenges facing individuals with a criminal record, and efforts to create fair hiring opportunities for those who have already served their time (more on that after the jump.)

The Second Chance Coalition has a handy card describing voting rules for Minnesotans with criminal convictions, and reminding all of us that voters do NOT need a photo ID to vote this November. Here are the rules for would-be voters with criminal convictions in Minnesota:

If you were convicted of a felony in Minnesota or any other state and as of Election Day you are NOT incarcerated, on probation, on parole, or supervised release, YOU CAN VOTE! In fact, the minute you have completed your felony sentence and are “off paper,” you can register to vote OR you can register at your polling place on Election Day.

If you were convicted of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor you NEVER lose your right to vote. If you are in jail on Election Day and are not serving a felony conviction sentence, you have the right to vote by absentee ballot.

Elizabeth Glidden and council member Gary Schiff have competing breakfast events on the last Friday of every month — free coffee and lots of ideas at each event. The main focus of this “Early Morning with Elizabeth” was employment for ex-cons. Speakers from TakeAction Minnesota’s Justice 4 All campaign, EMERGE Community Development, and 180 Degrees described difficulties facing ex-cons seeking employment. “We lock ’em up at an alarming rate – but we forgot they have to come back out,” noted Mark Clark of EMERGE.
TakeAction Minnesota’s website succinctly summarizes the disparate impact of the criminal justice system in Minnesota:

[T]he heaviest burden of the criminal justice system falls on communities of color, who make up less than 15 percent of Minnesota’s total population but more than 46 percent of those in prison . This is not because people of color commit more crimes, but because of proven patterns of racial bias in the system and a history of racial inequity in our country.

Mark A. Haase, a lawyer and vice president of the Council on Crime and Justice, noted that, while crime rates in Minnesota have essentially “stayed the same” over the past 30 years, the number of people convicted and incarcerated has ballooned. “In 1982 there were 5,000 felony charges in Minnesota,” Haase said. “In 2010, there were 15,000. The percentage or rate of people on correctional control in Minnesota has tripled and the number has more than tripled.”
A Minnesota law, signed by Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2009, already bans public employers from asking about or considering a job applicant’s criminal history until the applicant has been selected for an interview. Glidden is one of the Minneapolis city council members backing extension of “ban the box” legislation to cover all businesses that have city contracts.

TakeAction Minnesota’s fair hiring practices campaign advocates going a step further, advocating that all employers:

  • Remove any questions about criminal records from initial employment applications;
  • Do not consider non-conviction records or cases that have been expunged or pardoned in the hiring process;
  • Consider criminal records only when they directly relate to the position sought by an applicant;
  • Allow applicants to show evidence of rehabilitation, if a person does have a criminal record related to the position being sought.

Sarah Walker of 180 Degrees said that in 1980, 14 percent of black male youth who did not graduate from high school went to prison, but today that number is 40 percent. While Minnesota has a relatively small prison population, said Walker, the state has “the fourth highest rate of people on probation” in the United States. “When we talk about employment disparity, we have a bunch of people who are living in the community and can’t get jobs,” said Walker. She said she believes this contributes to Minnesota’s high rate of racial disparity in employment. “Our system has made it so entire families and communities get punished.”

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