WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today led a coalition of 15 Attorneys General voicing opposition to a Minnesota law that prevents returning citizens from voting until they have completed their terms of parole or probation. In an amicus brief filed in Schroeder v. Simon before the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the coalition argues that allowing returning citizens to vote strengthens their ties to their community, decreasing the likelihood of recidivism. Further, they assert that the law disproportionately harms the state’s African American, Latinx, and Native American communities. The plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief to restore the vote to individuals still serving probation or parole.
“Minnesota’s voting restrictions undemocratically deny the vote to returning citizens under criminal supervision, who are living, working, and paying taxes in their communities,” said AG Racine. “Such disenfranchisement laws disproportionately harm Black, Latinx, and Native Americans who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. They also discourage reintegration and rehabilitation of these citizens—who feel stronger connections to and investments in their communities when they can vote, enhancing public safety.”
Felon disenfranchisement in the United States is the product of a patchwork of state laws, which vary widely. Prior to this election, the District of Columbia became one of three jurisdictions—including Maine and Vermont—that do not restrict in any way the voting rights of convicted felons, including those currently in prison. Eighteen other states automatically restore a returning citizen’s voting rights upon release from incarceration. Efforts to expand the right to vote embrace the notion that allowing returning citizens to vote benefits both the individuals and the communities they rejoin. However, an estimated 5.2 million people across the United States—2.3% of all adults—were barred from casting a ballot in this year’s election because of felony convictions. Of those, roughly 3.9 million are no longer incarcerated.
Minnesota is one of 16 states that require returning citizens to complete the terms of their imprisonment, parole or supervised release, and probation before they automatically regain the right to vote. As a result, over 55,000 Minnesota residents serving a supervised sentence in the community cannot vote.
In this amicus brief, the states collectively support the plaintiffs’ challenge to the Minnesota felon disenfranchisement law because:
- Expanding voting to returning citizens promotes successful reintegration and enhances public safety: Over the past 25 years, states have restored the right to vote to more than one million citizens by reforming their felon disenfranchisement laws. These reform efforts include laws repealing lifetime disenfranchisement, allowing people convicted of felonies to vote while completing the terms of their probation or parole, eliminating requirements to pay legal financial obligations, and providing information to felons leaving correctional facilities about restoration of their voting rights and registering to vote. Studies find that restoring voting rights to returning citizens fosters civic participation and reduces their likelihood of committing further crimes. Furthermore, there is no evidence suggesting that continued disenfranchisement supports the goal of rehabilitation.
- Felon disenfranchisement disproportionately harms African American, Latinx, and Native American communities: States have recognized the importance of restoring voting rights to returning citizens given the disparate impact of felon disenfranchisement laws on minority communities. Mass incarceration has resulted in voting rights disparities for people of color. Nationwide, in the November 2020 election, more than 6.2% of the African American voting age population in the United States could not vote as a result of felon disenfranchisement laws, as compared with only 1.7% of the non-African American population. Data also suggests that disenfranchisement laws disproportionately harm Latinx people because they are incarcerated at higher rates than the non-Latinx population: about 2.4 times greater for Latinx men and 1.5 times for Latinx women. In Minnesota, the numbers are even starker: the latest data suggest that more than 7.2% of the Black voting-age population, over 3.7% of the Latinx voting-age population, and 5.9% of the Native American population are disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions.
A copy of the amicus brief is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-11/Schroeder-Simon-Amicus.pdf
AG Racine is leading the amicus brief and is joined by Attorneys General from California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Protecting Ballot Access
Over the summer, AG Racine led multistate coalitions opposing similarly unfair voting restrictions against returning citizens in Florida and North Carolina. In the time since, AG Racine has led coalitions protecting voting access in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and two Texas cases, and defending deadline extensions for mail-in ballots in Minnesota and North Carolina. He also secured a preliminary injunction stopping U.S. Postal Service cuts that threatened the right to vote for millions of Americans planning to vote by mail during the pandemic.