The Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA) filed suit in Anoka County District Court against the Secretary of State on June 29, 2023, for the purpose of striking down as unconstitutional the recently passed “felon voting” law. The MVA is represented by the Upper Midwest Law Center.
The case will be argued in-person on Monday, October 30, 2023, at 8:30 a.m., at the Anoka County Government Center, 2100 3rd Ave, Anoka, MN 55303. The courtroom number will be posted in the lobby. The Honorable Judge Thomas R. Lehmann will be presiding. The hearing is open to the public.
The Minnesota Voters Alliance will hold a social event following the hearing at the nearby Sparky’s Café (12 Bridge Square). The attorneys and plaintiffs will attend.
The new law declares that a person convicted of a felony has their right to vote restored immediately upon their release from incarceration, even if they have not completed other elements of their sentence like parole or restitution. It even allows those convicted of felonies who are on work release—part of the "confinement" phase of a felony sentence—to vote.
This law violates Article VII, Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution, which requires that a felon may be "entitled or permitted to vote at any election in this state" only after they have been "restored to civil rights." Our lawsuit asks the court to rule the law unconstitutional because it restores the felon's right to vote before the person has been restored to civil rights, that is, before the felon is relieved of all limitations and burdens, such as parole and restitution, placed on them by the court-imposed sentence.
The framers of the Minnesota Constitution believed that the right to vote is fundamental and has such a direct effect on who governs the citizenry, that it does not belong in the hands of felons who are proven to have inflicted serious harm on society. The precise language of Article VII, Section 1 was installed to ensure this principle would never be undermined by political actors. If you are convicted of a felony, you lose the right to vote, period. The legislature is given no authority to make any adjustment to that consequence.
The chief purpose for not entrusting a felon with the precious and powerful right to vote is not punishment of the offender. Rather, removing the voting rights of felons helps protect all of us from those who have a history of actively undermining the safety and welfare of the community.
The framers, additionally, believed in redemption, in providing for a "second chance." So, they included a provision under which the felon regains their voting rights after they have completed their entire sentence. When their debt has been repaid, and only in full, the last right they have restored is the right to vote. In short, a right to vote can be restored after the entire debt is paid, not just the first installment.
The framers made the restoration provision equally unalterable by the legislature as is the removal requirement. The right to vote is returned only after full completion of the sentence is accomplished.
Revoking and restoring the right to vote is solidly encased by the clear boundaries of Article VII, Section 1. The Minnesota Constitution directly protects the citizenry from having to risk the voting conduct of a person who committed a serious crime and has not fully paid their debt to society. There are an estimated 55,000 felons who have yet to complete their entire sentences.