ACLU sues to restore voting rights to Minnesota felons on supervision, probation

The plaintiff in a case is a rehabilitation ex-felon who is on probation for 40 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against the Minnesota Secretary of State to restore voting rights to felons who are serving either supervision or probation.

The ACLU filed the suit in Ramsey County District Court on Monday, claiming the current law that bars those with felony convictions are barred from voting while on supervision or probation even if they've served their prison sentences, and even if they haven't spent any time in prison.

It claims that the State of Minnesota has "never articulated any justification for disenfranchising" thousands of citizens to whom this applies, and argues that no such justification exists.

"No legitimate or rational government interest is served by barring people from voting while they’re on probation,” the ACLU adds. "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."

The current Minnesota law states that a citizen can vote after felony conviction provided they've finished all parts of their sentence, including probation, parole, or supervised release.

Minnesota's Secretary of State Steve Simon this January expressed a desire to restore the voting rights to convicted felons on supervised release or probation, but it wasn't one of the bills that got passed in the 2019 legislative session.

The lead plaintiff in the ACLU case is Jen Schroeder, who is now a drug and alcohol addiction counselor after being convicted of felony drug possession, and cannot vote until she is 71 because part of her sentence was 40 years on probation.

"I am dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others," she said in a ACLU press release.

"I should have the right to vote for the person who I think will make policy changes that will enable me to be successful. There’s absolutely no reason that anyone who’s served their time should be stripped of their right to participate in our democracy."

The ACLU estimates that around 52,000 Minnesotans are currently ineligible to vote as they're serving supervision or probation sentences, of whom 20 percent are African Americans despite being just 4 percent of the state's voting age population.

The complaint claims the state is violating due process and equal protection rights under the Minnesota Constitution.

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