Bill tries to clarify when felons can vote


Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls) has an idea that he believes would eliminate confusion about when a felon has their voting rights restored.

“If you’re locked up you can’t vote; if you’re out you can vote,” he told the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee Thursday.

Sponsored by Dehn, HF491 would allow a person convicted of a felony to be eligible to vote upon release from a correctional facility. It was approved by the committee on a split-voice vote and sent to the House Elections Committee.

“There are many individuals who are out that, unfortunately, think they can vote while they are under supervision,” Dehn said. “There are even individuals who have long been off supervision that still think that they cannot vote.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said that under current law, a person convicted of a felony cannot vote while they are incarcerated or out on probation or parole.

“I was always taught that ignorance of the law is no excuse,” said Rep. Mark Uglem (R-Champlin).

Minnesota has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the country, preferring to use things like probation and community service to punish lawbreakers rather than prison time.

Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge) doesn’t think it is fair that a person guilty of a felony could never lose their voting rights simply because they weren’t required to serve any time behind bars.

Some states allow felons in prison to vote, said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center).

“This identifies clearly who should and should not vote,” said Rep. John Ward (DFL-Baxter). “I think it will clear up a lot of misconceptions in our elections system.”

Freeman said checking out the cases where voter fraud may have occurred with a felon voting costs his office about $100,000 annually. He said that 665,000 people voted in Hennepin County in 2008, and of those, 38 felons were charged for voting when they should not have cast a ballot. Those found guilty were sentenced to community service.

“This bill makes it very simple and very directive. All of us can understand it,” Freeman said.

A companion, SF107, sponsored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.