SAINT PAUL — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit today to restore voting rights to tens of thousands of Minnesotans.
Schroeder v. Minnesota Secretary of State was filed in Ramsey County District Court by the ACLU of Minnesota and national ACLU on behalf of people with felony convictions who are barred from voting while they are on supervision or probation, even after they have finished any prison term or even if they’ve never spent a day in prison.
“No legitimate or rational government interest is served by barring people from voting while they’re on probation,” said ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney. “The criminal justice system is supposed to be about reform, redemption, and reintegration into society. Denying people the vote flies in the face of these goals while violating a fundamental right.”
“Minnesota has never articulated any justification for disenfranchising citizens who live in our communities following a felony conviction, and none exists. The exclusion of these citizens from the political process is fundamentally wrong, undemocratic, and corrosive to constitutional governance,” said Craig Coleman, a partner with Faegre Baker Daniels, pro bono co-counsel on the case.
The plaintiffs in Schroeder v. Minnesota Secretary of State are among more than 52,000 Minnesotans who are living and working in their communities, raising families and paying taxes, yet aren’t allowed to decide who will represent them. They live in every county of our state.
Plaintiff Jen Schroeder will spend 40 years on probation and cannot vote until she is 71.
“I am proud that I have turned my life around,” said Schroeder, who was convicted of drug possession and has since become a drug and alcohol addiction counselor. "I am dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others. I should have the right to vote for the person who I think will make policy changes that will enable me to be successful. There’s absolutely no reason that anyone who’s served their time should be stripped of their right to participate in our democracy.”
Plaintiff Tierre Caldwell, an employment navigator with The Power of People Leadership Institute, is on probation and has not been allowed to vote since the 2008 presidential election. He’s the father of two.
“I can’t vote for my kids’ sake for who to put on the school board. It’s hard to encourage your children to vote when you cannot,” Caldwell said. “Voting is the one thing that makes you feel free. Statistics show the majority of people who vote don’t go back to prison. It makes me feel like they can take my tax money but I can’t participate in selecting our leadership.”
The complaint cites due process and equal protection violations under the state Constitution.
“Our clients and thousands like them live in their communities, carrying all of the responsibilities that entails,” said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Depriving them of voting serves no legitimate purpose and is unconstitutional.”
View the complaint below.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that promotes, protects, and extends the civil liberties and civil rights of people in Minnesota through litigation, lobbying, and community engagement.
- ACLU-MN staff attorney David McKinney
- Plaintiff Jen Schroeder, a drug and alcohol addiction counselor
- Plaintiff Tierre Caldwell, a re-entry employment navigator with The Power of People Leadership Institute
- Plaintiff Elizer Darris, an organizer with ACLU-MN and board member of Appetite for Change
- Craig Coleman, a partner with Faegre Baker Daniels, pro bono co-counsel on the case
ACLU-MN Voting Rights Fact Sheet
Disenfranchisement disproportionally affects people of color.*
• African Americans comprise about 4% of Minnesota’s voting-age population, but they account for more than 20% of these disenfranchised voters living in the community.
• American Indians make up less than 1% of Minnesota’s voting-age population but comprise almost 7% of those disenfranchised.
• Latinx make up less than 2.5% of Minnesota’s voting-age population but comprise almost 6% of those disenfranchised.
Disenfranchisement hits Greater Minnesota the hardest. **
- Every Minnesota county contains people who cannot vote while on probation.
- About 70% live outside Hennepin and Ramsey Counties.
- Probation lengths in Greater Minnesota are on average 46% longer
Minnesota has one of the nation’s highest rates for people on probation or supervision, which means more people are prohibited from voting. ***
• In 2016, one in 41 Minnesota adults was on probation or parole, making it the state with the seventh-highest supervised population in the country on a per-capita basis.
The number of offenses considered felonies has exploded in Minnesota, which means more people cannot vote. ****
• The number of crimes defined as felonies has vastly increased. In the mid-1800s, there were less than 100 felony-level crimes in Minnesota. Today, that number is close to 400.
• Many low-level and nonviolent crimes are now classified as felonies.
Barring people from voting while they’re on probation or supervision does not work because it:
• Undermines rehabilitation.
• Increases recidivism.
• Alienates individuals from their communities.
• Fails to achieve any deterrent effect.
Letting people vote while they’re on probation helps people, communities and families because:
• Individuals who vote tend to be more active in their communities.
• Voting connects people to their communities and reduces recidivism.
• Children are more likely to vote as adults if they are raised by parents who vote.
* U.S. Census and the Minnesota Department of Corrections pursuant to a Minnesota Government Data Practices Act request
**Minnesota Justice Research Center, Felon Disenfranchisement in Minnesota, Feb. 21, 2019
*** Pew Charitable Trusts, Probation and Parole Systems Marked by High Stakes, Missed Opportunities, Sept. 2018
**** Mark Haase, Civil Death in Modern Times: Reconsidering Felony Disenfranchisement in Minnesota, Minnesota Law Review, Sept. 1, 2015; Minn. Sentencing Guidelines and Commentary 96-123 (Aug. 1, 2014); and Minnesota Statutes