Minnesota Judge Dismisses Right-Wing Challenge to Voting Rights Restoration Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Minnesota judge on Wednesday dismissed a right-wing lawsuit seeking to invalidate legislation that restores voting rights to over 55,000 Minnesotans on parole, probation or community release due to a felony conviction.

The conservative group behind the legal challenge — Minnesota Voters Alliance — sought to roll back the progress made by the historic rights restoration bill that was signed into law in March 2023. 

Prior to the enactment of the legislation by the state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature, Minnesotans with felony convictions were permitted to regain their voting rights only after the completion of their entire sentences — which often include years- or decades-long periods of probation. 

Under the new legislation, Minnesotans’ voting rights are restored immediately after release from incarceration — a practice that the Minnesota Voters Alliance lawsuit argued stood in direct violation of the Minnesota Constitution. According to the lawsuit, individuals on supervised release, probation, or work release because of a felony conviction have “not been restored to all civil rights” and are therefore ineligible to regain voting rights until they are fully discharged from their sentences. 

In Wednesday’s 11-page order, the judge presiding over the case rejected the conservative plaintiffs’ arguments. In addition to holding that the plaintiffs lack standing to bring their lawsuit, the judge flatly rebuffed the plaintiffs’ notion that individuals must regain “all civil rights” as a prerequisite to having their voting rights restored: “The major premise of this argument is fundamentally flawed…Contrary to Petitioners’ argument, [the Minnesota Constitution], does not say ‘restored to all civil rights.’ Instead, it says ‘restored to civil rights.’”

The judge cited a February 2023 Minnesota Supreme Court opinion in which the majority upheld the state’s then-limited rights restoration scheme, but explicitly held that “the Legislature has broad, general discretion to choose a mechanism for restoring the entitlement and permission to vote to persons convicted of a felony.”

In response to Wednesday’s decision, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison (D) wrote in a statement yesterday that he is “extremely pleased that yet another effort to undermine the voting rights of Minnesotans has been soundly rejected.” 

Ellison’s statement continued: “The legislature has the ability to decide when voting rights are restored to Minnesotans, and today’s ruling reaffirms that right and reaffirms the constitutionality of the Restore the Vote Act. This is a good day for the 55,000 Minnesotans who’ve had their voting rights restored. Today is also a victory for democracy here in Minnesota because our democracy is always made stronger when more people participate.”

The attorneys for the Minnesota Voters Alliance have already stated that they intend to appeal Wednesday’s decision. 

Read the opinion here.

Learn more about the case here.