Five million people in 48 states are legally barred from casting their vote on Election Day because of prior felony convictions, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Minnesota is one of nineteen states in which persons convicted of a felony may not vote until completion their entire sentence, including prison, parole, and probation. (Except for Maine and Vermont, all states revoke voting rights for felons while they are serving sentences in prison.) In Minnesota, the right to vote is automatically restored after completion of a felony sentence. No court application or approval is necessary.
In Minnesota, more than 58,000 incarcerated and recently released convicted felons were unable to vote in 2004, according to a 2006 study released by University of Minnesota.
The felony disenfranchisement laws hit African American communities particularly hard. African American males are disproportionately likely to be convicted of felonies.
A 2004 study by The Sentencing Project, a national advocacy group working for a just and effective criminal justice system, concluded that thirteen percent of eligible, voting age, African Americans were disenfranchised in 2004 nationwide. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, nearly eight percent of eligible African American voters are disenfranchised in Minnesota.
“Restore Your Voice” is a voter registration campaign aimed at ex-felons who have served their time and have had their right to vote restored. “Restore Your Voice” is a partnership between the City of Minneapolis, EMERGE Community Development, Twin Cities Community Voice Mail, Catholic Charities of St. Paul/Minneapolis, the Minneapolis Urban League, MPIRG, Good Will Easter Seals, the GMCC Community Justice Project, Correctional Transition Services Inc., the Office of Congressman Keith Ellison, the Legal Rights Center, RS Eden, Rebuild Resources, the Council on Crime and Justice, Urban Embassy, 180 Degrees, the Election Day Community Coalition, TakeAction Minnesota, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota, the Minneapolis High Rise Representative Council, Isaiah’s Closet, MN Council on Non-Profits, The NE CDC/UNP, Felons 4 Felons, and the St. Paul NAACP.
Maura Youngman is a journalism student at Hamline University and an intern with the TC Daily Planet.