Just a few weeks ago, it looked like this was the year for voting rights for convicted felons in Minnesota. Both Republicans and Democrats backed bills allowing convicted felons to vote after they were released from prison, even if they were still on probation or parole. Now the voting rights bill looks dead.
When I wrote about the bill back in March, chances looked good. The bill had just been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and had strong bi-partisan support. MPR quoted Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota vice chair Walter Hudson, a supporter of the proposal:
“Participation in the political process conveys a sense of belonging and investment in the community that those seeking reconciliation ought to have.”
Republican Representative Tony Cornish co-sponsored the bill in the House. Now Cornish is no longer supporting his own bill. Doug Grow quotes Cornish in support of voting rights:
“Statistics show that the more you bring those people (felons who have served their time) into the community, the less likely it is they will re-offend,” Cornish said. “But there are still people who think that probation is part of the punishment. I don’t see it that way. I say if somebody is safe enough to be brought into the community, let’s make sure that person is not isolated, that he’s made to feel welcome.”
and then opposing them:
“We (the Republican caucus) are not comfortable with it yet,” Cornish said. “It’s still a year or two away.”
Cornish was right when he sponsored and backed the bill. He’s wrong to back away now.
According to the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, Minnesota has the fourth-highest rate of probation and parole in the country. And the loss of voting rights due to felony convictions disproportionately affects African-American and Native American men:
“In 2007, the number of individuals disenfranchised as a result of felony conviction was 1.7 percent of the state’s total voting-age population, but 10 percent of African Americans and 6.5 percent of American Indians of voting age were disenfranchised. Almost 17 percent (nearly 1 in 5) of otherwise eligible voting-age African American males in Minnesota were disenfranchised in 2007.”
Some 47,000 Minnesotans need voting rights restored. It’s time to do so now.