ACLU Sues Minnesota to Restore Voting Rights for Convicted Felons

Voting booths stand ready in downtown Minneapolis for the opening of early voting in Minnesota on Sept. 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

(CN) – The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state of Minnesota Monday on behalf of four convicted felons who are seeking the restoration of their right to vote.

The four plaintiffs have finished their incarceration and are currently on probation, parole or supervised release.

“Plaintiffs have been deemed safe to live in their communities where they raise their children, contribute to Minnesota’s economic, cultural, religious, civic and political life, pay taxes and bear the consequences of the decisions made by their governments,” the complaint states. 

But felons in Minnesota automatically lose their right to vote until their sentences are completely extinguished, according to the lawsuit. 

“Consequently, these citizens live, work, marry, have kids, send their kids to school, play, shop, pay taxes, volunteer, worship, and otherwise participate in Minnesota communities for years while being denied their right to vote,” the plaintiffs said in the suit.

Schroeder was convicted of drug possession in 2013 and spent a year in prison. She was sentenced to 40 years probation and will not be able to vote until she is 71 years old.

I am proud that I have turned my life around,” Schroeder said in a statement Monday.

Since her release, she has become a drug and alcohol addiction counselor.

“I am dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others,” Schroeder said. “I should have the right to vote for the person who I think will make policy changes that will enable me to be successful. Theres absolutely no reason that anyone whos served their time should be stripped of their right to participate in our democracy.”

Elizer Darris served 17 years in prison for second-degree homicide. Though he has been out of prison for two years, he will not be eligible to vote until 2025.

Plaintiff Christopher Jecevicus-Varner was convicted of drug possession and Tierre Caldwell was convicted of assault.

The plaintiffs claim that more than 52,000 Minnesota residents are unable to vote due to their felony status, and they also assert that Minnesota’s policy has “disparate impact on indigenous citizens and people of color.”

“Minnesota’s statutory scheme for restoring the voting rights of citizens convicted of a felony and living in their communities cannot be squared with the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, due process and the fundamental right to vote,” the complaint states.

The complaint was submitted by attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels and the ACLU in Ramsey County District Court. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon is named as the defendant.

No legitimate or rational government interest is served by barring people from voting while theyre on probation,” ACLU-Minnesota staff attorney David McKinney said in a statement Monday. 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.”

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