Bill to restore voting rights to felons who served time in Minnesota passes first committee

A bill that would restore voting rights for felons in Minnesota who have served their time advanced through its first committee in the Minnesota Legislature on Tuesday.

The "Restore the Vote" bill passed in a 7-6 vote of the Elections Committee along party lines, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against.

"Everyone should have the right to vote," argued Senator Bobby Joe Champion.

Democracy for all rather than just some: That was Senator Bobby Joe Champion’s push to a Senate Elections Committee on Tuesday. Champion’s "Restore the Vote" bill would reinstate the voting rights of felons once released from prison and on probation, giving voting rights to, he estimates, north of 50,000 disenfranchised Minnesotans.

"Whatever the number is, if you think it’s high as 57,000, people are felons in our community who cannot vote even though they’re paying taxes, they should be allowed to vote," said Sen.Champion.

Naomi Gaines-Young is a prime example, and she spoke in favor of the bill. "I desperately want a say in my community and what I do and where I go and my children."

But the idea also drew plenty of skepticism in the room.

"Before us today is a bill that goes from too far off one direction, to too far off another direction," said Sen. Andrew Matthews.

Senator Mark Koran said his son is a convicted felon who received ten years probation for a violent crime, but he was unable to support the current bill. And Senator Warren Limmer pushed back further saying some states have a lifetime loss of voting rights for felons.

"I'm not convinced at all that we should go down this path," said Limmer.

The bill has support from Minnesota’s Attorney General and Secretary of State. On Tuesday, Secretary of State Steve Simon claimed voting rights make felons less likely to re-offend.

"That person is not going to feel as marginalized, that person is going to feel included," said Secretary Simon.

In an effort to make this a nonpartisan issue, those in favor also pointed out 22 states -- a mix of red, blue, and swing states -- that already have similar laws in place.

"There isn’t a partisan advantage," said Ken Peterson. "There is not a partisan disadvantage. It’s just the right thing to do."

After passing Tuesday, the bill has at least one more committee stop in the Judiciary Committee before it would make its way to the Senate floor. There is also a similar bill moving ahead in the House.