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The Minnesota Senate passed a voting rights bill Tuesday that would allow those with a felony to vote upon leaving jail or prison.

The Minnesota Senate passed the “restore the vote” Tuesday with a vote of 35-30, expanding voting rights for those with a felony. The bill’s passage comes within a week of the Minnesota Supreme Court voting to uphold the state’s current voting restrictions for those with a felony, prohibiting them from voting until they finish their parole and probation periods.

Republican Minnesota state Sen. Warren Limmer, of Maple Grove, discusses his opposition to a bill that came up for debate on the Senate floor Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, to restore voting rights to felons when they get out of prison before they complete their parole. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowsk)

“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,” Democratic Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, of Minneapolis, told his colleagues.

According to Prison Policy, Minnesota has a current incarceration rate of 342 people per 100,000, with an overwhelming majority of those incarcerated being Black and Hispanic people.

(Courtesy: Prison Policy)

Minnesota Senate unlocks shackles for voters with felonies

In 2021, Attorney General Merrick Garland vowed that the Department of Justice would do everything within its power to protect voting rights. However, little has been done federally to protect voting rights of Americans, specifically Black and BIPOC Americans.

The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled it was up to the Legislature to change the state’s current voting laws that were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The high court’s ruling acknowledged that 1% of White people, 6% of Black people and 9% of Native American people in Minnesota could not vote in 2018 because they had been convicted of a felony but had not completed their parole. If the right to vote was restored upon release from incarceration, it said, those percentages would drop to 0.1%, 1.5% and 2%, respectively.

“If a person is not incarcerated and if they are living in our communities, they should have the right to vote,” said bill sponsor, Sen. Bobby Joe Champion. “Remember, the individuals living in our communities, there’s already been a decision made by the courts and others where they should be. They are safe. They are paying taxes. They are raising families.”

Mike Creef is a fighter for equality and justice for all. Growing up bi-racial (Jamaican-American) on the east coast allowed him to experience many different cultures and beliefs that helped give him a...