UPDATE: On Thursday, April 13, the Minnesota House passed House File 3 on a party line vote. The bill heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Jan. 6, the two year anniversary of the 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor state lawmakers announced the formation of a legislative caucus focused on “defending democracy.” The new caucus introduced a major package of pro-voting reforms, House File 3 or the “Democracy for the People Act,” earlier in the week. During the 2022 midterm elections, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party flipped control of the Minnesota state Senate, giving Democrats in Minnesota a state government trifecta to advance their priorities.
The “Democracy for the People Act” would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, permit voters to opt-in to a permanent absentee voter list, require voting materials in multiple languages and strengthen voter intimidation and deception penalties. Additionally, H.F. 3 would establish automatic voter registration at the Department of Public Safety (where Minnesotans apply for driver’s licenses), Department of Human Services (where Minnesotans apply for MinnesotaCare, the state’s health care program for low income individuals) and other participating state agencies.
The omnibus bill would create a public fund for campaign contributions where each registered voter would be allotted two “Democracy Dollars coupons” with a $25 dollar value donatable to a political party or campaign committee. The city of Seattle became the first jurisdiction to adopt such a process in 2015; in a political environment dominated by wealthy donors and special interests, public financing systems are growing in popularity among pro-democracy and anti-corruption groups.
Finally, H.F. 3 would restore the right to vote for individuals who are no longer incarcerated for a felony conviction. Currently, Minnesota restores voting rights to those convicted of felonies after the completion of an entire sentence, which almost always includes probation and/or parole. According to the Sentencing Project, 75% of disenfranchised individuals are out of prison and living among their communities. H.F. 3 would move Minnesota’s policy in line with 22 other states, where people convicted of felonies only lose voting rights while physically in prison. The bill also outlines the responsibility of the secretary of state to procure “accurate and complete information” on rights restoration changes and the expectation for correctional facility officials to provide robust notice of voting rights as part of the re-entry process following incarceration.
Two subsections of this omnibus bill (also filed in their own respective bills) — pre-registering to vote for 16- and 17-year-olds and rights restoration after incarceration — will have a hearing held by the House Elections Finance and Policy Committee on Wednesday, Jan, 11 at 8:30 CST.