We have had many stories in the past about states trying to make voting more diffciult, but once in a while there is a story about a state trying to expand voting rights in some way. Now is one of those times. On Friday, Gov. Tim Walz (DFL-MN) signed a bill that would allow convicted felons who have completed their sentences to vote. The new law is expected to re-enfranchise 55,000 people. This is the biggest expansion of voting rights in Minnesota in half a century. This law was made possible when the Minnesota DFL captured the trifecta last November by flipping the state Senate.
Re-enfranchising ex-felons is controversial and also partisan. People who get sent to prison tend to be poor and are are disproportionately nonwhite. It is assumed that if they get to vote again, they are not likely to vote for the GOP, which is why Republicans don't want them to vote at all. It is estimated that 4.6 million Americans are not allowed to vote as a result of a felony conviction.
Eleven states still deprive former felons of the right to vote. The worst offender is Florida. Over a million people convicted of felonies are still disenfranchised there. In 2018, a ballot initiative to amend the state Constitution to allow most ex-felons to vote passed by a huge margin. The Republicans in the state legislature didn't like what the people of Florida had to say, so they quickly sprung into action and passed a law saying that ex-felons could only be re-enfranchised after they had paid all fines and court costs, as well as restitution to victims when a court ordered that. Most people just released from prison have no place to live, no job, and no money, so they can rarely pay all these costs. Consequently, only rich ex-felons (e.g., people convicted of crimes like stock manipulation, insider trading, and embezzlement) can vote in Florida. (V)