Minnesota Appeals Court Turns Back Push to Restore Felon Voting Rights

From today’s Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

The Minnesota Court of Appeals this week became the second court in two years to reject a lawsuit seeking to restore voting rights to Minnesotans who are on felony probation sentences.

The suit was filed against Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon in 2019 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota on behalf of four Minnesotans serving long felony probation terms. It placed Simon, a vocal proponent of restoring voting rights to all non-incarcerated felons, in the awkward position of defending the constitutionality of a law he wants changed.

But in an interview Tuesday, Simon said the Legislature, not the courts, should be the venue for restoring such rights.

“As a person, as an advocate, I strongly favor restoring the right to vote to those who have left prison behind,” he said. “I’ve never made any secret of that, and I think Minnesota is happily moving in that direction.”

David McKinney, a staff attorney for the ACLU, said Tuesday that the group would “keep fighting” and appeal this week’s ruling to the state Supreme Court.

“Felony disenfranchisement is one of the enduring and systemic racial disparities in our criminal justice system,” McKinney said. “Depriving people of their right to vote further entrenches these disparities.”

DFL lawmakers have sought unsuccessfully for years to pass legislation that would immediately return the right to vote to Minnesotans released from prison. One of the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Simon, Jennifer Schroeder, became a prominent face in the push for such legislation in 2019 when she shared her story of being unable to vote until 2053 when her 40-year probation term is scheduled to end.

Schroeder is joined by Elizer Darris, Christopher Jecevicus-Varner and Tierre Caldwell, all of whom cannot vote until the end of their own lengthy terms — including a 20-year sentence for Jecevicus-Varner.

The plaintiffs sued Simon in his official capacity as secretary of state, arguing that the prohibition on felon voting is an unconstitutional deprivation “of their fundamental constitutional right to participation in the democratic process.” The plaintiffs argued that the state law violates right-to-vote provisions and equal-protection principles in the Minnesota Constitution as well as its due-process clause.

They sought a court declaration that the statute was unconstitutional and that felons may regain their voting rights upon “being released or excused from incarceration.” A Ramsey County judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for such a declaration last year, and a three-judge Court of Appeals panel upheld the ruling Monday.

Read the complete article here.

Progressive groups launch $30 million effort to push voting rights legislation

From CNN Online:

Two left-leaning groups are teaming up to pour $30 million into an effort to persuade US senators to pass a sweeping voting rights bill that would counter efforts by state GOP lawmakers to restrict voting access.

The plan from End Citizens United/Let America Vote and the National Democratic Redistricting Committee is to spend $20 million on a television and digital advertising campaign and $10 million on a grassroots effort to try to get the legislation passed.

“Our goal is to get support to pass this bill and to show members of the Senate that their constituents believe this is a bill that just has to pass,” said Adam Bozzi, vice president of communications for End Citizens United/Let America Vote.

The bill, which passed the Democrat-led House earlier this month, would expand voting access as well as improve transparency and accountability in Washington. But it comes as GOP-led state legislatures across the country have introduced efforts to curtail voting rights.

The legislation’s fate has also become entangled with the fate of the filibuster in the US Senate. Bozzi said the groups’ efforts will target Democrats as well as Republicans, but he reiterated that their end goal is to ensure the bill is passed whether or not it garners bipartisan support.

“We’re going to make a run at Republicans,” Bozzi said, but “whether it’s with 60 votes or some procedural change, we need to put this bill in a position to be passed.”

The ad campaign is expected to roll out initially in Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Maine and Pennsylvania, and will eventually expand to 12 to 15 states. It was previously reported by The New York Times.

Read the complete article here.

Democrats Push Voting-Rights Expansion With Fresh Urgency

From today’s New York Magazine:

When the House passed the For the People Act, a package of voting, redistricting, and campaign-finance reforms, in March of 2019, it was a symbolic and aspirational effort. It passed on a strict party-line vote. Its significance as a Democratic “messaging” vehicle was reflected in its designation as HR 1, the first bill introduced in the 116th Congress.

The bill is back as HR 1 in the 117th Congress, but this time it will also be the first bill introduced when Democrats take over the Senate this week. The Republican majority in the Senate over the past four years made democracy-reform legislation a nonstarter. But now a Democratic governing trifecta in Washington gives such reforms a new impetus, as does the baleful experience of the 2020 election cycle, in which Republicans aligned with the Trump administration doubled down on a strategy of suppressing as many votes as possible and then trying to keep votes already cast from being counted or reflected in the final Electoral College balloting for the presidency.

Here’s a list of reforms in the legislation, as compiled by Daily Kos’s Stephen Wolf when it passed the House last year:

• Automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies

• Same-day voter registration

• Online voter registration

• Allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they’ll be on the rolls when they turn 18Allowing state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies

• Banning states from purging eligible voters’ registration simply for infrequent voting

That’s a lot of reforms, and many are at cross-purposes with the GOP’s renewed determination to make voting more, not less, difficult — especially via mail balloting — and the latter-day Republican conviction that massive spending on elections by wealthy interests is not a travesty but a cherished First Amendment right.

So unless Republicans experience some sort of radical post-Trump conversion to enthusiasm for democracy, passage of these reforms in the Senate will almost certainly be blocked by its GOP minority, barring filibuster reform (which in turn would require unanimous Democratic support, which it does not appear to have at the moment). This also isn’t the kind of legislation that can be moved around the filibuster barricades by a budget reconciliation bill, because it doesn’t involve significant fiscal issues.

Read the complete article here.

CA Initiative to restore voting rights to parolees heads to November ballot

From the Sacramento Bee:

Voters will decide this November whether to restore voting rights for Californians on parole after state lawmakers approved a proposal Wednesday to place that question on the ballot.

On a 28-9 initial vote, the state Senate sent Assembly Constitutional Amendment 6 to the Nov. 3 ballot, opening a possibility for more than 40,000 formerly incarcerated residents to regain their voting ability before they finish their probationary period.

State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said ACA 6 would allow people on parole to reintegrate into and become a “contributing member to society.”

“People on parole are our family members, our colleagues, our neighbors, our friends,” Bradford said. “They go to work every day. They pay taxes. They do their part to successfully reintegrate themselves back into society, yet the stigma exists for them.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there’s been an emerging trend to lift voting restrictions on formerly incarcerated people, though policy shifts vary by state.

Maine and Vermont allow both parolees and currently incarcerated people to vote, while 16 states and D.C. only prohibit voting for those currently serving a sentence. Twenty-one states, including both conservative and liberal regions, revoke those rights both incarcerated people and those on parole, and may require payment of fees or fines before regranting that right. Another 11 states ban formerly incarcerated people from voting “indefinitely,” according to the conference.

“The removal of the right to vote is not based in an interest in public safety,” said Taina Vargas-Edmond, executive director of Initiate Justice, an advocacy group sponsoring the bill. “Rather, it is rooted in a punitive justice belief system that intentionally attempts to rob marginalized people of their political power.”

Dozens of other organizations — many focused on racial equity — and individuals also support the measure, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, and the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

Read the complete article here.