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Convicted Felons Have the Best Chance in Years to Gain Right to Vote in Minnesota

This year libertarian and Tea Party conservatives joined ultra-liberal organizations like the ACLU and Take Action MN to create a loud, formidable coalition with the best shot in years of restoring voting rights to convicted felons on probation or parole.

Right now Minnesota is one of 30 states that does not allow convicted felons to vote until they are completely off of parole and/or probation. Out of 57,000 convicted felons living in Minnesota, 47,000 of them cannot vote.

Liberals say barring people from voting when they're trying to get their life back together after prison is counterproductive; pushing them back to the margins where crime and recidivism lurks. For conservatives, it's about liberty and taxes.

See also: Robert Stewart, a Doctoral Student Is One of Thousands Who Can't Vote in 2014 Election

"Our Founders stood up because they were being taxed but weren't being represented in government, and that's exactly what is happening today with felons out on probation," said Karl Eggers with the Liberty Minnesota PAC at a "Restore the Vote" press conference near the Capitol yesterday.

Watch live streaming video from theuptake at livestream.com

This session bills restoring the right to vote to released felons have bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate. HF 342 has eight Democrats and seven Republicans signed on as sponsors, and SF 355 has two Democrats and three Republicans.

The groundswell of support started with the "Ban the Box" effort banning employers from asking job applicants about their criminal history. Public employers were banned from the practice in 2009 and private employers in 2013.

Then last year another bill passed making it easier for people to expunge low-level felonies and misdemeanors from their records.

"People are starting to realize there are serious problems with the criminal justice system," said Jana Kooren with the ACLU of Minnesota. "We can't keep punishing people for everything and people are getting too long of sentences, and all of this is finally starting to come into the public's consciousness."

Mark Haase, a lawyer and lobbyist who has worked on restoring felons' voter rights for the last five years, said in years past fear was the biggest factor keeping the measure from passing.

"I think with criminal justice issues there's a fear elected officials have where they think if they do something like this they'll be seen as soft on crime," he said. "Last year we had good support from the DFL majority, but I think they were worried about how it might be played in the upcoming election by the Republicans."

Now the "Restore the Vote" movement has reached a critical mass, with more than 50 religous, public safety and advocacy organizations signed on to pressure legislators.

"It's much more comfortable to join in than to be a pioneer and go out there alone," said Kooren. "The more people sign on the more people want join."

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