Minnesota returns voting power to thousands. The question is whether they'll use it


Antonio Williams speaks at a “Restore the Vote”, rally in St. Paul Minn. Williams, who was previously incarcerated, has led an effort to canvass other people formerly incarcerated so that they can register to vote.

Kerem Yucel/MPR News

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Antonio Williams, a former incarcerated man who has been a leader in a canvassing effort to reach out to other people incarcerated so they can register to vote.

Kerem Yucel/MPR News

“Can I ask you a question?” Simon asked the men gathered to give them tips on how to integrate back into society. How many of you have participated in an election in the past? Only a few people raised their hands.

Many of you have political power from the moment you leave here. Use your power, use your voice. During an August visit, Minnesota’s chief election official, a Democrat told the group: “That’s my advice.” I know you’ve got a lot of things to consider. But I hope that this is included on the list. “

Voter Registration forms will be included with their prison discharge packages. They won’t even have to wait a day before they can fill out the forms, thanks to an earlier-this-year state law that restored voting rights immediately instead of upon completion or probation.

Minnesota, along with New Mexico (which passed a similar bill this year), is one of the states that has accelerated the restoration of voting rights to those who have been incarcerated or had felony convictions. Other states restrict access. The challenge is to get them to use their voting rights.

The challenge is to get them to use those voting rights.

Robert Clark, due to leave Stillwater in October on his 34th birthday, said he’ll definitely be signing up to vote.

“I wanted people to understand that we have a voice and it’s not just because we’ve been to prison that we’re bad people and they’re going to count us out,” Clark said after meeting with Simon.

Derek Burgess, 34, is also on the cusp of freedom. He told his fellow inmates, as well as the visitors dressed in suits, that he was also motivated to vote. Burgess told Burgess, “This is going get me into trouble.” “I am a Trump fan and my partner is a Democrat. You get me? You feel me? “

“Yes,” Simon answered.

“This is crazy, man,” Burgess replied. You’re all about to get in trouble, man. “

A Lower Participation Rate

Sarah Walk, a Democratic Consultant who has worked in re-enfranchisement campaigns around the country said that voter participation remains a challenge, even though many states have passed laws and/or lowered barriers through executive orders. “This group has not historically been targeted by voter involvement. Walker stated, “I think this is one barrier.” You have to be conscious of engaging this population. One analysis by the Marshall Project, a nonprofit that studies criminal justice trends found that less than a quarter (24%) of newly eligible voters who had felony convictions registered to vote in the next presidential election. That is far lower than registration rates for other voters.

Minnesota election and corrections officials said it’s a metric they’ll be watching, but they won’t have initial data until after this year’s elections. Minnesota has only local races on the ballot in November, so there is a low likelihood of a high turnout. This can cause people to be hesitant about voting for fear of getting tangled in the justice system again. She said that the person who delivers the message also matters.
The Minnesota voter registration forms and brochures on “voting with criminal records” were displayed at the “Restore the Vote rally” held in St. Paul’s Arlington Hills Community Center.

Kerem Yucel/MPR News

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Minnesota application forms for voter registration and informational booklets on “voting with criminal records” are displayed at a “Restore the Vote rally” held at Arlington Hills Community Center, St. Paul.

Kerem Yucel/MPR News

“Brother, You Can Vote”

Antonio William, 37, was part of a canvass this summer in St. Paul. He joined several other formerly incarcerated individuals who were fanned in a neighbourhood with clipboards, voter forms, and QR codes. Williams served 13 years for a murder-related conviction. He has been out of jail for a couple of years but, without the new law, he wouldn’t be able to vote until 2025. Williams explained that if you’re not in prison, your voting right is automatically restored.

The man shared that he had recently come out of prison, too.

“Brother, you can vote. You can vote. Williams replied, “I’m still on probation and parole right now.” “So, I’m wondering, can you register to vote?” “

Williams is anticipating a rush of feelings when he goes to the polls this year for municipal elections.

“Now here I am able to vote. Williams said, “It’s real but I still have to cast my ballot.” Then it will be like ‘Oh wow, I did it.’ A court hearing is scheduled for October.“Just because somebody had a past, you can change that”
There are other signs of growing acceptance of the formerly incarcerated in political life. A court hearing is set for October.

“Just because somebody had a past, you can change that”

There are other signs of growing acceptance of the formerly incarcerated in political life.

Miranda Pacheco advanced earlier this month through a primary election for city council in Duluth, the fifth-largest city in Minnesota.

“Up until very recently, I hadn’t had the right to vote,” Pacheco said. “Duluth had never heard of me until a few months ago. Her childhood was marked by abuse, teen pregnancies and housing instability. Her 20s and 30s were marked by bouts with addiction and transgressions from theft to drug crimes that landed her a felony record.

Now 43, Pacheco moved off probation in April and well beyond her troubled past — while keeping that part of her life front and center, even in a campaign.

“It’s just me. Like, I can’t lie. I can’t lie. “That is my strength,” said she. I turned my life upside down, right? She knows that November may bring more joy — or disappointment. Pacheco’s story is significant because she voted for herself in the first time. In an interview, she stated that if people knew, “Hey, Miranda is a felon,” they would be more empowered. You can’t change someone’s past just because they had one. “