Secretary of State Steve Simon (D-MN) unveiled his “Investing in Democracy” 2019 agenda during a Thursday press conference where he announced plans to restore voting rights to felons after they are released from prison.
Currently, Minnesota is one of 22 states that revokes voting rights for felons during incarceration and for any periods of parole or probation thereafter. Simon’s office estimates that this means there are roughly 60,000 Minnesotans who have been released from prison, but are still ineligible to vote because they are on probation or parole.
There are only two states, Maine and Vermont, in which felons never lose the right to vote, while at least 14 states restore voting rights immediately upon release, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Investing in democracy also means investing in people,” Simon said Thursday. “These are people who have served their time already and are working to establish or reestablish themselves in their communities. Minnesotans, I think, believe in second chances, and believe in forgiveness, and restoring the right to vote at the end of a prison term will give real opportunities to those who have left prison behind to become full members of their communities.”
Simon also argued that restoring voting rights upon release from prison “increases safety” because there “is hard evidence” that “when you return and restore the right to vote for people they feel more invested in the community and are less likely to re-offend.”
“That’s something that we should all want. That’s something that we should all seek. This is not a Republican idea or a DFL [Democratic-Farmer-Labor] idea, as many of you know. This has had bipartisan support over the years,” he continued.
Simon also announced that his office will push for automatic voter registration (AVR), which automatically registers eligible voters when they interact with a government agency unless they choose to opt-out.
“Automatic voter registration will increase the number of Minnesotans who get registered,” he said. “AVR removes barriers to registration, increases the number of voters on the rolls before Election Day, and enables our databases to automatically update your registration if you move.”
In a Thursday press release, Simon’s office said that AVR “saves money, increases registration rates, and improves the accuracy of voter rolls.” 15 states and Washington D.C. currently have a similar law in place.
The policy proposals are part of a four-pronged agenda Simon has set for 2019, which also includes funding for election cybersecurity and protecting voter privacy in the 2020 presidential primaries.
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