Local View: Formerly incarcerated Minnesota voices silenced no more

From the column: "Denying people with felony records the right to vote as a form of punishment has little if any deterrent effect on future crime. In fact, the opposite is true."

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The freedom to vote and have our voices heard is fundamental to democracy. It's the most basic and essential building block of American government.

However, for far too long, Minnesotans with felony records were voiceless, because of racially tinged laws that punished them for mistakes they once made.

Let’s be clear: Denying people with felony records the right to vote as a form of punishment has little if any deterrent effect on future crime. In fact, the opposite is true. Restoring the right to vote, along with other rights, to people who were previously incarcerated or are under probation has been shown to reduce recidivism .

Common Cause Minnesota, along with the organization and other partners of the Restore the Vote coalition have been working on the cause for almost two decades.

Those two decades have now culminated in success. On Feb. 22, the Restore the Vote bill (H.F. 28) made it past the Minnesota House floor on its way to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for signature. Minnesota joined 22 other states on March 3 when Walz signed the bill into law, thus restoring voting rights to the nearly 55,000 Minnesotans who are no longer incarcerated but remain under probation or parole.


Minnesota has historically imposed some of the longest probation sentences in the country. But that was only half the problem. Minnesota was also one of the worst in the nation in targeting Black and brown people for extended probation and parole periods — meaning that these marginalized communities were doubly disenfranchised.

An October report by the Sentencing Project, “ Locked Out 2022: Estimates of People Denied Voting Rights ,” found that 5.3% and 1.7% of Black and Latino communities respectively are disenfranchised nationally due to these laws. These racially tinged laws have resulted in citizens being voiceless election after election, making it clear that action needed to be taken to restore the constitutional rights of millions.

And now, with the Right to Vote bill officially signed into law, more than 55,000 of our family, friends, and neighbors will be able to have their voices heard in our democracy.

In Minnesota, a felony means that a crime is punishable by at least one year and one day in prison. It also means that the damage to property or theft was $1,000 or more, with the most frequent felonies including drug possession, DWIs, writing bad checks, and receiving stolen property. Felony convictions involving property are far more common than violent crimes in Minnesota. According to, in 2022, there were 117,807 crimes involving property; by comparison, there were only 18,021 violent crimes.

When we talk about the 55,000 Minnesotans who remain under probation or parole, we are talking about Minnesotans who are working every day for redemption. They are our neighbors, friends, or even family members. Incarceration serves the purpose of punishment and rehabilitation. These Minnesotans have served their punishment, they’ve paid their dues, and they are now building on rehabilitation. They are going to school, working, volunteering, and raising their families.

Re-enfranchisement advocates across the state took action to bring greater parity around voting rights in Minnesota and the growing problems of mass incarceration, racial profiling, and disparities in sentencing. The collective success was led by everyone within the Restore the Vote coalition throughout the past two decades.

Common Cause Minnesota and its growing base of almost 18,000 multi-partisan members statewide have worked on voting restoration, from mobilizing statewide advocacy, moving for legislative action within the state, and filing an amicus brief in Schroeder v. Minnesota Secretary of State. Despite belonging to various party affiliations, or not being affiliated at all, one thing we’ve come together to do is support this work, ensuring our republic’s democracy is safeguarded, our elections continue to reflect the will of Minnesotans, and everyone’s vote counts.

To be truly of, by, and for the people, the government must reflect everyone it serves. Voting rights, unabridged access to the ballot, and safeguards around the integrity of our elections are critical to ensuring all Minnesotans have a say in shaping the future of our families and communities. This includes those formerly incarcerated who are working for redemption and full reintegration into their communities with family, friends, and loved ones.


Restoring the vote to more than 55,000 Minnesotans moves us closer to that shared value, and the Gopher State is taking the right steps toward justice.

Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera is executive director of Common Cause Minnesota (, a statewide, nonpartisan nonprofit located in St. Paul. She wrote this for the News Tribune.

Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera.jpg
Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera

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