WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today led a coalition of 17 attorneys general opposing a discriminatory Minnesota law that bars those convicted of felonies from voting until they have completed the terms of their parole, probation, or supervised release.
In an amicus brief filed in Schroeder v. Simon before the Minnesota Supreme Court, the coalition argues that allowing returning citizens to vote after they leave prison helps them reintegrate and strengthen ties with their communities, supports rehabilitation, and reduces recidivism, which promotes public safety. The coalition also asserts that the law disproportionately harms Minnesota’s African American, Latinx, and Native American citizens by disenfranchising them at disproportionately high rates. AG Racine previously led a coalition opposing this law before the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The plaintiffs in this case are seeking to restore the vote to individuals still serving terms of criminal supervision in their communities.
“Too many states—including Minnesota—unduly restrict the civil rights of those reintegrating into society, when they should be expanding access to the ballot to all citizens,” said AG Racine. “Disenfranchising returning citizens is part of a broad effort to suppress the votes of Americans of color. It disproportionately harms Black, Latinx, and Native American citizens, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system. And it’s counterproductive for public safety. Helping those returning from incarceration become part of and contribute to their communities helps make our neighborhoods safer and makes our democracy more inclusive.”
Felon disenfranchisement in the United States is the product of a patchwork of state laws, which vary widely. The District of Columbia is 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. Twenty-one other states automatically restore returning citizens’ voting rights upon release from incarceration. Efforts to expand the right to vote embrace the notion that allowing those subject to community supervision to vote benefits both these individuals and the communities they rejoin. However, an estimated 5.2 million people across the United States—2.3% of the voting-age population—were barred from casting a ballot in the November 2020 election cycle because of felony convictions. Of those, roughly 3.9 million are no longer incarcerated. In Minnesota specifically, over 55,000 citizens serving a supervised sentence in the community cannot vote.
In this amicus brief, the states collectively support the plaintiffs’ challenge to Minnesota’s felon disenfranchisement law because:
- Expanding voting to returning citizens promotes successful reintegration and enhances public safety: Over the past 25 years, there has been a marked trend of states expanding the franchise 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 community supervision, 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 recidivism. 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. 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 voting-age population. Data also suggests that disenfranchisement laws disproportionately harm the Latinx population, rendering at least 560,000 Latinx Americans (over 2% of the Latinx voting-eligible population) without a political voice. 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 voting-age population is disenfranchised as a result of felony convictions.
A copy of the amicus brief is available here.
AG Racine is leading the amicus brief and is joined by Attorneys General from California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Protecting Voter Participation
AG Racine has worked to defend the voices of District voters and American voters nationwide. He led multistate coalitions defending a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, opposing a Georgia law that would make it harder for millions of residents to vote, and opposing unfair voting restrictions against returning citizens in Florida, North Carolina, and Minnesota. In the leadup the 2020 election, AG Racine spearheaded coalitions to protect voting access in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and two Texas cases, and defend deadline extensions for mail-in ballots in Minnesota and North Carolina. He also led a coalition of 23 attorneys general opposing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s baseless effort to invalidate the results of the 2020 election, and 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.