FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 17, 2011
Contact: Mark Haase, 612-353-3035, email@example.com
October 17, 2011
Encourage, Don’t Criminalize Voting.
Minneapolis, MN – The Council on Crime and Justice released the following statement in response to a new report issued by Minnesota Majority raising concerns about voter fraud:
Minnesota Majority recently reported that 113 individuals were convicted for voting illegally in the 2008 elections. TakeAction Minnesota appropriately responded by stating that notice laws should be enacted to prevent this from happening. However, while fair notice is what should be provided at a minimum, it does not address the real problem - Minnesota’s underlying felon disenfranchisement law may actually decrease public safety, recent criminal justice trends have made it overly punitive, and its enforcement is a waste of limited resources.
Minnesota denies the right to vote for anyone convicted of a felony and is on probation, supervised release (parole) or is incarcerated. The right to vote is automatically reinstated once someone has completed their entire sentence. Felony convictions have become much more common, and sentences longer, as our criminal laws, especially drug laws, have become more severe. Since 1974, the percentage of Minnesotans disenfranchised as a result of a felony conviction has increased over 500%. Additionally, Minnesota now has the fourth highest number of individuals per capita in the U.S. who are under community supervision - 87% of the state's 70,000 disenfranchised live in the community. In other words, the majority of individuals currently disenfranchised have not done time in prison, and they work, pay taxes, and they and their families live in our communities. It should also be noted that at the Council on Crime and Justice we regularly hear from and about people who DO NOT vote when they are eligible because they do not know their rights and think their criminal record prevents them from voting. The 113 who illegally voted are more than offset by the hundreds or thousands who inevitably fall into this category.
Minnesota should join the 21 states that already allow probationers to vote and the national trend toward rolling back disenfranchisement laws. Prosecution of probationers wastes limited resources and sends the wrong message to the growing number of those who have committed felonies but are living in the community. And it may actually make us less safe by discouraging exactly the kind of behavior we want people to engage in. Voting can be a powerful concrete and symbolic way to contribute to the community and a means for ex-offenders to feel invested and empowered to take a positive role. We should be encouraging them to take on this important responsibility, not criminalizing it. Research has found that probationers and parolees who exercise their right to vote are less likely to recidivate. Restoring the right to vote for ex-offenders living in the community will make us safer, save resources already stretched thin and needed for real crime fighting, and make all Minnesota communities stronger.
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