Students advocate voting rights for felons

Maria Ly
Staff Writer

A student group at Minnesota State University, Mankato are currently working on a project to advocate and spread awareness about felon disenfranchisement and voting rights for felons. 

The group consists of Jenessa Rudell, Sierra Sanders, Kali Shae, Emily Stensvold, and Luke Westman, whom are all a part of the Masters of Social Work program at MNSU. 

Awareness around voting rights for felons are very low, as many people do not even know the laws surrounding felons and voting. Minnesota’s laws on voting rights for felons is that a person, if convicted of a felony, has their right to vote revoked until they complete their sentence, probation, or parole. 

Rudell stated, “This is very concerning because probation can last up to 30 to 40 years, that means you’re living, working, paying taxes in the community, but you don’t have the right to vote and express that right.” 

Many felons who have lost their right to vote usually have drug charges against them, most which are non-violent. Issues regarding racism is also a part of the challenge in getting rights for felons, something that has been a problem for decades. 

According to the policy brief made by the group, African Americans make up 13.4 percent of the United States population and are 38 percent of the prison demographic. In Minnesota, African Americans are five percent of the population and about 31 percent of this demographic are incarcerated. 

Westman stated, “Most people don’t know about the racial disparities in the prison populations, especially in Minnesota. Minnesota tends to be a more liberal state and however with that in mind, the demographics in the Minnesota prison population is highly skewed. A lot of the background policies that have sort of perpetuated these injustices is the federal war on drugs, because most of the offenders are non-violent offenders regarding possession of substances and things like that, and that’s where a lot of this takes place and is rooted in, however, political framework has disregarded criminality, and all of this background stuff is ignored.” 

The group hopes to advocate and join the American Civil Liberties Union on their lobby day Wednesday, April 10 to distribute their policy briefs and further spread the message. 

Sanders stated, “We’ll be going up to the capital with the ACLU to rally and lobby, and we’re also having the opportunity to speak with individual legislators who’ll give us an opportunity to really advocate and show them that they have a stake in this issue and how important it is to be able to restore voting rights for felons.” She hopes and welcomes other students and community members to join the group in advocating at ACLU’s lobby day. 

The group suggests students who want to get involved in the movement for voting rights for felons should educate, research and familiarize themselves with the policies and issue.

Sanders stated, “We’re just scratching the surface of it, there’s so much information that we know, and there’s also an immense amount of information that we probably haven’t discovered yet. Being familiar with the issue and understanding what you’re advocating for, and discover you’re stake in it is a huge thing.” 

One way the group suggests to get to know more about felon disenfranchisement is to watch Netflix’s documentary the “13th”. 

Stensvold suggested, “Even just reading this policy brief- it’s quick, simple, to the point, gives a lot of information for people who don’t know where to start to try to explore the issue- this is a great place to start.” 

Rudell stated, “Our policy brief is basically saying that we do agree that this is the right step in the right direction, but it’s not going far enough, so what we hope to advocate for is that people take this a step further and challenge that a little bit so that we can move past it and restore votes for everyone.” 

To find the policy brief about voting rights for felons and felon disenfranchisement visit: http://sbs.mnsu.edu/socialwork/policybriefs.html

Header photo courtesy of Flickr.

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