Released felon new voters are Minnesota’s largest influx since 1971

More than 50,000 people are now eligible to vote in Minnesota in 2023 due to a new law that passed the legislature this year. 

They’re convicted felons who are not currently incarcerated.

The new law makes a clear distinction: Felons still in prison can’t vote, but as soon as they get out, they can. That opened the door for the most new voters since the national voting age went down to 18 back in the early 1970s.

"I'm staring out of my window right now with several potholes," Elizer Darris told FOX 9. "I want to call up one of my elected officials and I want them to hear my voice as a constituent say, ‘What are you going to do about this?’ And I want an answer."

Darris says he’s worked on several campaigns over the last seven years. But at age 39, he’s never cast a ballot.

"I've never been a voting member in this state," he said. "And when you're not able to exercise the power of the ballot, you're not really looked at as a full citizen."

Darris was convicted of murder at 15 years old. He got out of prison seven years ago but wasn’t supposed to be allowed to vote until 2025.

Until the Restore the Vote Act took effect in June, anyone on felony parole or probation was not allowed to cast a ballot.

Darris will cast his first on Tuesday.

"There is an immense sense of pride and relief," JaNaé Bates told FOX 9. She was part of a 10-year effort to pass Restore the Vote.

Bates still runs into people who are out of prison, and don’t know they’re eligible voters. But she says a Mille Lacs County judge’s recent attempt to block people on probation from casting ballots highlighted the value of their votes.

"We were concerned that it might have had a chilling effect on voting for people who are going to benefit from this law," Bates said. "But we are also seeing as people realize that, you know, maybe my vote really does mean something." 

The Minnesota Voters Alliance has also filed a lawsuit in Anoka County to overturn the law. 

They argue the state constitution requires felons to finish off parole and any restitution before they can vote again. There’s currently no ruling that would stop former felons from voting this election cycle.