MAY 20, 2013

Contact: Jana Kooren, ACLU-MN,
651-645-4097 x123,

Minnesota Lawmakers Inch Forward on Voting Rights But More Work Needs to be Done, say Voting Rights Groups

(ST. PAUL, Minn) –The Minnesota House passed modest reforms to Minnesota’s election systems, but the ACLU-MN and many members of the Voting Rights Coalition—a nonpartisan partnership of civil and voting rights advocates—caution that more work is necessary to make Minnesota’s election systems more convenient and accessible. The groups call on all Minnesota legislators to support true election reform in the next session. The Minnesota Senate is expected to pass the same reforms before the close of the session today.

This year, the legislature approved no-excuse absentee voting; a move that promises to alleviate some long voting lines and allows more citizens to participate. “No excuse absentee voting is a step forward, but it needs to be accompanied by early voting to give working Minnesotans more voting options and to reduce costs,” said Laura Fredrick Wang of the League of Women Voters Minnesota.

The Voting Rights Coalition warns that implementing no-excuse absentee balloting, without the option to vote early in-person, has the potential to increase the cost of Minnesota’s elections, since absentee ballots are much more expensive to process than standard in-person ballots.

Legislators also failed to address the systemic confusion and unfairness regarding the eligibility of citizens on parole or probation to vote. “Current law is confusing because some people convicted of a crime can vote again, while others can’t if they are still completing probation or parole,” said Chuck Samuelson of the ACLU-MN. “If someone has already served their time, it is only fair to restore their voting rights upon release so they have the opportunity to make a positive contribution and participate in our democracy.”

Next session, the Voting Rights Coalition will focus on passing two important measures that would ensure greater access to voting for Minnesotans:

  • Early In-person Voting: This is a commonsense measure that would allow voters the flexibility of voting in the 15 days prior to Election Day, providing greater access to all. Absentee balloting is more cumbersome for voters than early voting and cost the state more than twice the amount to process than a regular ballot. Thirty-two other states now offer early in-person voting, which has proven very popular with voters. (Only one other state offers no-excuse absentee voting without early in-person voting.) Early voting would modernize Minnesota’s election system, prevent a spike in election costs, and provide more options to voters.
  • Voting Rights Restoration:Allowing individuals who have a felony on their record to vote as soon as they are released from prison—as opposed to waiting until they are “off paper” or off parole—would affect roughly 60,000 Minnesotans. The vast majority of these citizens live in the community, hold jobs, and pay taxes. This reform would simplify the voting process, make it easier to understand, and help re-integrate these citizens into their communities.

“These simple, commonsense reforms can help ensure that the voices of all Minnesotans can be heard on Election Day,” said Vina Kay of the Organizing Apprenticeship Project. “Our democracy works best when everyone participates.”

Voting Rights Coalition members include, among others: ACLU-MN, League of Women Voters Minnesota, Organizing Apprenticeship Project, Project Vote, Common Cause Minnesota, People for the American Way, Open Access Connections, Jewish Community Action and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

The Voting Rights Coalition is comprised of a broad spectrum of organizations that have come together with a common goal of protecting voting rights and fighting to ensure that every U.S. citizen can access the ballot box without facing unnecessary restrictions. The United States is one of the leading democracies in the world, and Minnesota leads the United States in voter participation. One of the main goals of the coalition is to make voting easier and more accessible to more Minnesota citizens.