MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – One of the most heavily pushed bills Minnesota lawmakers will take up this session is whether or not to restore voting rights to convicted felons.
Minnesota law currently states that if someone has been convicted, he or she cannot vote until all the terms of the sentence have been completed. That includes probation, parole or conditional release.
Supporters believe once people are released from jail or prison, they should be able to vote immediately.
A group calling itself Restore The Vote MN held a news conference at the State Capitol Thursday morning to announce their push for change.
Coalition leaders said studies show that people who are allowed to vote upon release take a more active role in their community. The group estimates there are close to 50,000 people in Minnesota who fall in this category and cannot vote.
In 2006, Jason Sole was convicted of felony possession of a controlled substance and served a year behind bars, but was also sentenced to 20 years' probation.
"I am a criminal justice educator, a Ph.D. candidate, an author, a national trainer and speaker, and most importantly, I am a taxpayer," Sole said.
Sole won't be able to vote until 2026. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says that's wrong.
"Minnesota ought to be one of the states where when you are in prison you cannot vote and when you get out of prison you can vote," Freeman said.
The proposal has the support of some prosecutors as well as both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. Bills to restore those rights have already been introduced by Rep. Tony Cornish and Sen. Bobby Champion.
Any change in the current law would have to go through the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. The new chair of that committee, Republican Rep. Tim Sanders of Blaine, is not on board.
"There are some serious crimes, serious felonies, violent crimes that I would have a really hard time letting folks on paper have their rights restored immediately," Sanders said.
However, other republican committee chairs are on board, most notably Cornish, who is former police chief.
There are several other states that already restore voting rights to convicted felons upon their release from jail or prison including North Dakota, Michigan and Illinois.