Minnesota lawmakers push to revisit felon voting rights

At a roundtable meeting Monday, lawmakers, activists and people with felony convictions discussed the future of a proposal to restore voting rights to a person once they are released from prison. 

Under current state law, a convicted felon’s voting rights are not restored until they have completed their parole or probation period. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Minnesota is one of 22 states that restricts voting until after a person has completed provisions of their release. 

In February, the House passed a measure that would give felons their voting rights back once they are released from prison. The measure failed to pass the Senate even though it has received some bipartisan support. 

“If you’ve served your time in prison and paid your debt to society, you should be able to return to full participation and community life,” said State Representative Ryan Winkler, one of the supporters of the change. 

Winkler argues Minnesota has long probation periods preventing people from voting years - sometimes decades - after their conviction. 

State Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen opposes the measure. He says the probation or parole period should be considered part of a convicted felon’s punishment. 

“That’s something they need to consider before they go out and put the gun in somebody’s face and demand money,” Ingebrigtsen said. 

Ingebrigtsen said he also thinks it would be unfair to the victim of the crime to have their perpetrator’s rights restored so quickly and before they’ve completed their involvement with the corrections system. 

Some people with felony convictions spoke at the roundtable, including Marlin Meszaros. In 2015, Meszaros was convicted of a felony drug possession. He’s been released from prison but won’t be able to vote until 2026, when his parole is up. 

“Even though I was deemed able to be released back into the community, safe enough to be in the community, I’m not trusted enough to be able to go into a voting booth,” Meszaros said. 

He said for those with felony records, getting the right to vote restored is empowering and makes them feel like they’re heard in the community they are participating in. 

“I’m living in the community, I’m paying taxes. I believe that I should be able to have a voice in who represents me because I’m participating in every other way,” Meszaros said.

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon was also at the roundtable and voiced his support for the change. He mentioned a case of a Minnesota woman who is ordered to be on probation for 40 years.

He also detailed how probation lengths and the number of crimes that count as felonies has changed over time, restricting felons’ rights to vote even further. 

A spokesperson for Gov. Tim Walz said the governor and his wife, Gwen, are committed to changing state law regarding felons’ voting restrictions. 

In 2018, the House approved changes to voting restrictions as part of a large budget bill. Rep. Winker said his caucus plans to bring up the measure as a stand-alone issue at the beginning of the session, which starts in February.