Minnesota Legislature Restores Felon Voting Rights

Photo of Minnesota Senate deliberating on both the “Restore the Vote” and “Drivers License for All” on the Senate floor, taken by Ingri Ramirez on Feb 21, 2023

Percy Bartelt, staff writer

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in a 6-1 vote that the state law barring felons from voting until after their probationary period was done and all fines were paid does, in fact, follow Minnesota’s state constitution. However, Minnesotan activists and citizens challenged this ruling, stating that individuals should have their voting rights restored the moment they are released from prison. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, this piece of legislation, known as the “Restore the Vote” measure, made it through the House and the Senate and is now signed into Minnesota state law. 

In the original Supreme Court ruling, the plaintiffs and attorneys representing past offenders brought for a specific case as evidence for their argument, Schroeder v. Simon, which highlights how a short prison sentence is tied with a lengthy probationary period that still bars them from voting. The plaintiff’s attorneys also brought forth the fact that the felon voting guidelines disproportionately impact Black, Hispanic/Latinx and Native American individuals and communities compared to others. This point raised by attorneys and Minnesotans alike questioned racial inequalities within the court’s ruling. 

Justice Natalie Hudson, who was the only justice to disagree with the ruling, gave her opinion on the case stating, “The fundamental right to vote, enshrined in Article VII of the Minnesota Constitution, demands generous and fierce protection by the judiciary,” as reported by MinnPost. Hudson went on to explain how the constitution is supposed to protect and aid its citizens, yet this ruling “improperly discriminates among the people of this state.” Others on the side of restoring voting rights have called the ruling a “stain to democracy” and that this policy is “long overdue for correction.”

The head plaintiff Jennifer Shroeder, who was arrested on drug possession charges, was sent to prison for one year with a forty year probationary period. Under the current law, she will not be able to vote until 2053, which the plaintiffs are claiming is unconstitutional; they are arguing that it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling, Minnesotans have gotten the “Restore the Vote” bill through both the House and Senate. On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the Senate approved the bill in a 35-30 ruling, and sent it to Gov. Tim Walz for an approval signature. 

“We know that in the state of Minnesota right now we have more than 55,000 of our friends, our neighbors and family members who are not allowed to vote. They should have the right to vote,” states Democratic Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, as reported by AP News, in support of the new ruling being passed. 

Currently, 21 other states have similar measures to ensure voting rights are restored when you are released from prison, regardless of probation or parole status, and Minnesota has now joined their ranks.