Robert Stewart hasn’t been able to vote since 2006, a right he lost because there’s a felony on his record. But for the past several years, the third-year sociology graduate student has been fighting to regain his voting rights. “It’s encouraged me to be involved,” he said, “because I have no other way to be involved in the political process, other than through advocacy.” While a bill to restore voting eligibility to many Minnesotans with criminal records when they leave prison made headway in the last legislative session, the measure failed to make it onto the floor of either chamber. Now, some University of Minnesota students are working to further the rights of those with criminal backgrounds. “I think [people with criminal records] should be welcomed back into the community,” said associate sociology professor Joshua Page. He said he believes the public should strive to integrate former convicts back into society, rather than exclude them.
Stewart is optimistic that groups like the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition, of which he’s a member, will help a similar bill become law in this spring’s session.
State Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, co-authored the bill last session with Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and several other DFL representatives. “I will definitely be reintroducing it,” Dehn said.
Stewart blamed the bill’s death last session on “election-year politics,” in which he said the tumultuous political environment makes it hard to get anything passed.