A measure to restore voting rights to felons who have been released from incarceration successfully cleared its first committee hurdle Thursday backed by a broad coalition of support. Dozens packed the hearing room in support of the bipartisan bill, authored by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, that would change state law to allow conflicted felons to vote immediately after they’re released from prison or the workhouse, rather than when they’ve completed the terms of their probation or parole—a process that can take years, if not decades. Although an effort years in the making–this year’s push has seen new support from conservative and libertarian causes, bolstering GOP support. Walter Hudson, vice chair of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, said that prison inmates should be denied the right to vote, just as they should be denied a multitude of other rights, but that shouldn’t apply once they are released back into the community, he said. “Participation in the political process conveys a sense of belonging and investment in the community which those seeking reconciliation ought to have,” he said.
Hudson said that just as it would be unreasonable to ban paroled offenders from constructive activities like attending church or finding a job, so is denying them the right to vote. Suggesting otherwise, he said, “Is somewhat like me banning peas and Brussels sprouts to my 6-year-old as punishment…I want him to engage in good, productive activities.”
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said prosecutors have a twofold interest in changing the law, not only allowing reintegration into the community, but adjusting the law would also ease the burden on elections officials and prosecutors in light of many felons on paper who attempt to vote, unaware that it’s illegal under current law. Determining whether they intended to break the law is difficult, he said.