Throughout the current legislative session, Voices for Racial Justice has tracked a number of bills as part of our Racial Equity Bill Watch. As the session moves forward and nears its end, several bills originally included in this list are being incorporated as provisions in omnibus bills. One such omnibus is the Elections Omnibus Bill (SF455), which contains a number of significant provisions that Voices for Racial Justice supports as expanding democratic participation and advancing racial equity. These include:
- Restoration of right to vote for individuals convicted of a felony: Minnesotans with criminal convictions who have served their sentence are unable to vote under current law, which is a barrier to participation and prevents individuals from having a stake in their communities. Felony disenfranchisement is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and African-American and American Indian populations are disproportionately affected. The restoration of right to vote for individuals convicted of a felony will have a tremendous positive impact on the quality of life of those who have served their time, as well as provide a feeling of being invested in the community, which has been shown to reduce recidivism rates.
- End prison gerrymandering: By counting incarcerated individuals as residents of the municipalities in which they are confined, population data demonstrates a highly distorted image of the demographic makeup within the community. This becomes problematic in the democratic process, as districts with a prison receive greater representation, which dilutes the voting power of other districts. Redistricting population data in order to reflect incarcerated persons at their residential address prior to incarceration will ensure accurate representation, thus safeguarding the democratic process.
- Voter pre-registration for individuals at least 16 years of age: Young voters continually demonstrate among the lowest voter turnout. Ensuring that young voters feel that they have a stake in their communities and that their voices are heard is imperative in advancing equity in Minnesota. Allowing individuals to preregister to vote at age 16 will encourage youth to cast their ballots and make their voices heard once they reach voting age.
- Automatic voter registration of driver’s license, instruction permit, or identification card: Minnesota consistently has one of the highest voter turnout rates, varying among race, ethnicity, and age. Voter turnout could be improved, however, by implementing automatic voter registration upon applying for a driver’s license, instruction permit, or identification card. This system will provide a simplified, cost-effective voter registration process that will increase voter turnout.
Each of these components, originally introduced as standalone bills, seek to address disenfranchisement and ensure full civic participation from everyone across all racial, cultural, social, and economic lines. We at Voices for Racial Justice support these provisions, and hope that all of our voices can persuade leaders at the Legislature to vote for equity in democratic participation in Minnesota. Add your voice to the process and contact your representative at the Legislature. Use social media platforms such as Twitter with hashtags #mnleg, #ElectionsMN, and #RacialEquityAgenda. If you have any questions, please contact Sebastian Zeck at firstname.lastname@example.org or Vina Kay at email@example.com.