Minnesota's constitution allows probationers to vote, lawsuit says
Minnesota is wrongly denying voting rights to more than 52,000 convicted felons who are on supervised release or probation, the American Civil Liberties Union alleges in a new lawsuit.
The state's rules are similar to what's on the books in a plurality of states. But the suit, filed Monday, maintains Minnesota's policies violate the due process and equal protection guarantees of the state Constitution.
Legislation to restore voting rights to felons as soon as they get out of prison failed this year in the state, one of only two in the country (with Alaska) where the two chambers are currently controlled by different parties. But the measure was endorsed by the top three Democrats elected statewide — Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Secretary of State Steve Simon — who are now be in the awkward position of being called on to defend the voting policies in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit notes that the state Constitution adopted 160 years ago gave all Minnesotans the right to vote, including felons when "restored to civil rights." But a state law enacted 56 years ago says the franchise is returned to felons only by court order or after the completion of a sentence, including post-incarceration obligations such as parole or probation — similar to what's on the books in 20 other states.
The ACLU said the constitutional provision should grant voting rights for felons on probation after their incarceration, or who were sentenced to probation without jail time.
"The current system denies Minnesota citizens the fundamental right to vote with no valid justification," it says. "Indeed, it ignores the criminal justice system's interest in reformation, redemption, and reintegration. It ignores the role of voting as a fundamental right."
The lawsuit says the current rules disproportionately disenfranchise Latinos, Native Americans and especially African-Americans — who account for 4 percent of the state's population but 20 percent of the felons unable to vote.
While the suit is a civil rights matter on the surface its political importance is unavoidable. People from racial minorities vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and allowing more of them to go to the polls in November 2020 would give the party some measure of breathing room. The Democratic nominee has carried the state in 11 straight presidential elections, but President Trump came within 2 points (45,000 votes) of breaking that string in 2016 and has vowed to compete hard for the state's 10 electoral votes next year.
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Efforts to fend off election hackers in 2020 and beyond have revolved around protecting ballot equipment and the databases of registered voters. Little attention has been focused on the vendors and their employees.
But the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice is proposing that the vendors who make election equipment and related systems be subjected to heightened oversight and vetting, much like defense contractors or others involved in national security.
"There is almost no federal regulation of the vendors that design and maintain the systems that allow us to determine who can vote, how they vote, or how their votes are counted and reported," according to a new report from the nonpartisan policy institute.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has a message for corporations: The country is in trouble, so get off your butt.
The foundation made its pitch to the business community in a newly published white paper chronicling the sorry state of civics education, the role that corporations can play in healing a divided country and why it should all matter to businesses.
The health of civics education is "quite bleak," foundation President Carolyn Cawley said in an introduction to the paper, which she called "the first step in our efforts to make the business case for civics."
With the support and buy-in of the private sector, the foundation believes, the country stands a better chance at improving civic education and engagement, which in turn could heal the in-fighting, distrust and misinformation undermining the health of the country and well-being of corporate America.