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What is felony disenfranchisement and why should we restore the vote?

02 Mar 2016 6:26 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Felony disenfranchisement is when a person who is convicted of a felony crime loses their right to vote as part of their punishment. This punishment happens automatically for all convicted felons, regardless of the particular crime. In Minnesota, ex-offenders may vote when they are no longer incarcerated, on supervised released (known in most other states as “parole”), or on probation. Since 1974, the percentage of voting age Minnesotans disenfranchised as a result of a criminal conviction has increased over 400%. In 2011, 63,000 Minnesotans were unable to vote due to a felony conviction.[1] That’s as if the entire population of Burnsville (and then some) was unable to vote.

Restore the Vote Minnesota and its supporting organizations believe that it would be better for both the ex-offender and Minnesota in general if ex-offenders were returned their voting rights as soon as ex-offenders leave incarceration. That means that ex-offenders who are on parole or probation would be able to vote. The reasons for restoring voting rights fall generally into two categories: criminal justice and civil rights.


Better for Criminal Justice

  • Long ago, the legislature believed that disenfranchisement would be a deterrent against crime; they thought that individuals would be less likely to commit felonies if people knew that they might lose their right to vote in addition to fines or imprisonment. However, no study has correlated the threat of losing one’s voting rights with reduction in crime. It is a policy that is not backed with evidence.

  • On the other hand, research links pro-social activities like voting to reduction in crime.[2]

  • Empirical study shows correlation between voting and lower recidivism, meaning ex-offenders who vote are less likely to commit a crime again in the future.[3]

  • Some people may believe that regardless of the above, ex-offenders should still lose their voting rights as punishment, as something that ex-offenders deserve. But our legal system is sophisticated enough to provide other alternative punishments that serve this retributive purpose. The question is not merely whether disenfranchisement is a retributive, but whether it is the best punishment compared to other options.


Better for Civil Rights

  • Individuals interviewed about losing the right to vote express a feeling of being an “outsider” because they cannot vote.[4]

  • Children are more likely to vote as adults if they are raised by parents who engage in the voting process.[5]

  • Minnesota’s disenfranchisement rate of 1.5% is higher than most other states, and two-to-three times higher than most states in the north central region of the United States.[6]

  • Due to current felony disenfranchisement laws, voting-eligible individuals, election officials, and even courts have been confused about who is allowed to vote and when.[7] By restoring the vote to ex-offenders when they leave imprisonment, the moment in time when an ex-offender can vote is much clearer. It creates not only clarity for the ex-offender, but also an easier administrative burden on the state.

  • When the Minnesota Constitution first adopted felony disenfranchisement, only 75 crimes were felonies, but today over 375 crimes are felonies.[8] Disenfranchisement was only reserved for the worst kinds of crime, such as murder, and that no long seems to be the case. Felonies in Minnesota now include things like small-time burglary or minor drug possession.

  • ·Felony disenfranchisement disproportionally affects communities of color.[9]


[1] Uggen, Christopher, and Suzy McElrath. "Draft Report on Felon Disenfranchisement in Minnesota." University of Minnesota Department of Sociology. (2012)

[2] See Uggen, C. and Manza, J. (2004) “Voting and Subsequent Crime and Arrest: Evidence from a Community Sample,” Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 36, No. 1, 193-215, 213.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Gittell, Mary. "Empowering Citizens: From Social Citizenship to Social Capital." Social Capital and Social Citizenship. England: Lexington Books, 2003.

[6] Haase, Mark. (2015) “Disenfranchisement in Minnesota,” Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 99, Issue 5, 1913-33, 1917.

[7] Id. at 1929.

[8] Id. at 1920.

[9] In 2007 in Minnesota, over 10 percent of the black population, and nearly 17 percent of black males, could not vote because of felony disenfranchisement. Uggen, Christopher. Report on Felon Disenfranchisement in Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Department of Sociology, 2009.

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