Felon's Right to Vote Restored Sooner with New Minnesota Law Change

Empty Voting Booths On Election Day. Felon's right to vote concept.

One of the most significant collateral consequences to a felony conviction is the loss of civil rights. The primary civil rights in play are the person’s firearm rights and, most importantly, the right to vote. For the latter, a felon’s right to vote is automatically restored, but now that restoration will occur sooner.

To begin with, though, it’s important to understand the legal background in play. Pursuant to Article VII, § 1 of the Minnesota Constitution, persons who have been convicted of felonies are not “entitled or permitted to vote at any election in this state … unless restored to civil rights.” Minn. Stat. 609.165 used to govern when a felon’s right to vote was restored. Under the old law, the right to vote was restored when the convicted felon essentially was discharged from probation or their sentence was served in full.

This old law was challenged in 2020, wherein the individual argued that waiting to restore the right to vote until after discharge from probation violated their constitutional rights. The individual argued instead that the right to vote should be restored while on probation, parole, or supervised release. While the Court agreed generally with the argument, the law was constitutional and upheld. But in issuing the decision, the Court noted that the effect of this law tends to disproportionately impact the communities of color – and therefore those communities’ ability to vote in critical elections – due to the inequities that persist in the criminal justice system. Ultimately, the Court ruled this was a matter to be determined through the legislature.

And that’s exactly what happened. Now – effective June 1, 2023 – felon’s right to vote will be restored sooner. The specific new provision of the law reads: 

An individual who is ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction has the civil right to vote restored during any period when the individual is not incarcerated for the offense. If the individual is later incarcerated for the offense, the individual’s civil right to vote is lost only during that period of incarceration.

Given the lengths of probation, parole, and/or supervised release associated with most felony convictions, this law change will have a far-reaching impact. And this is a good and just result. Because the policy behind the removal of civil rights is to ensure those that are convicted of felonies – the most serious of crimes – are rehabilitated and assimilated successfully back in the communities before their rights are restored. Well, if they are not incarcerated, they are essentially already deemed by the criminal justice system to be worthy of assimilating and thriving in our communities. So, a felon’s right to vote should tag along.