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Attorney General Bonta Joins Multistate Effort in Support of the Voting Rights of Previously Incarcerated Individuals

Highlights importance of civic engagement for strengthening ties to the community and reducing recidivism 

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 17 attorneys general in pushing back on an outdated Minnesota law that prevents previously incarcerated individuals — or “returning citizens” — who are living in their communities from voting until they have completed their terms of parole or probation. In an amicus brief filed in Schroeder v. Simon currently before the Minnesota Supreme Court, the coalition highlights the importance of civic engagement for strengthening returning citizens’ ties to their communities and reducing the likelihood of recidivism. The coalition urges the court to reverse the lower court’s decision, and restore the voting rights of those on parole or probation.

“Restoring the right to vote is good for democracy and for public safety,” said Attorney General Bonta. “When we encourage civic engagement, we’re encouraging the kinds of activities that help formerly incarcerated Americans reintegrate into society. It’s past time to do away with outdated disenfranchisement laws that have a disproportionate impact on communities of color. It’s the right thing to do because it’s just, good for democracy, and safe.” 

Disenfranchisement of incarcerated Americans in the United States is the product of a patchwork of state laws, which vary widely. Laws — like Minnesota’s — that target those on parole or probation can have disproportionate harms on people of color, including Black, Latino, and Native American communities in particular. These types of impacts can have widespread distorting effects on our democracy. The concern is not simply that some lose their political voices, but also that their communities as a whole face diminished voting power and lose out on opportunities to influence myriad issues that affect their daily lives. In recent years, however, a trend has emerged: based on these types of significant concerns, states have begun moving away from broadly restricting the voting rights of formerly incarcerated individuals. For instance, numerous states — including California — automatically restore voting rights to any person convicted of a felony upon release from incarceration. Efforts to expand the right to vote embrace the notion that allowing returning citizens to vote benefits both the individuals and the communities they rejoin.

However, an estimated 5.2 million people across the United States — 2.3% of all adults — were barred from casting a ballot in the last presidential election because of felony convictions. Of those, roughly 3.9 million are no longer incarcerated. Minnesota is one of 16 states that require returning citizens to complete the terms of their imprisonment, parole or supervised release, and probation before they automatically regain the right to vote. As a result, more than 55,000 Minnesota residents serving a supervised sentence in the community cannot exercise their right to vote.

In the amicus brief, the coalition asserts:

  • Evidence shows that allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to vote fosters civic participation, decreases recidivism, and promotes public safety;
  • Laws that disenfranchise formerly incarcerated individuals do not promote rehabilitation;
  • The stark disproportionate impact the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated individuals has on communities of color raises profound legal concerns; and
  • Minnesota’s existing statute is out of step with efforts to expand voting rights. 

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.