"...shall not be denied or abridged..."

The following is a guest post post by Jason Sole and Rachel Wannarka of the Minneapolis NAACP in which they announce actions to help restore voting rights for people who have been convicted of felonies and call for an end to felony voting bans.


On Friday, the Editorial Board of the Star Tribune acknowledged that “Felon voting bans have a racist past” and called for Minnesota to “be a leader among the states in discarding voting laws that have a racist past and that are producing a racially disparate result.” On Wednesday, April 27th, high school students across Minnesota are bravely planning to walk out of classes to protest Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt’s refusal to let a allow a bill already passed by the Senate to be debated in the House.  Ninth-grade protest coordinator Ben Jaeger says “Youth are taking action to Restore the vote because we are the future of Minnesota. We do not want to grow up in a society in which 47,000 of our Minnesotan brothers and sisters have had their right to participate in democracy stolen.”

Last week Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights for more than 200,000 felons in his state, saying, “there’s no question that we’ve had a horrible history in voting rights as relates to African-Americans — we should remedy it.” But the state of Minnesota is refusing to do the same as Virginia despite broad-based efforts from community members asking for a bill to restore voting rights to be heard.

A greater total number of the 47,000 Minnesotans currently affected by the voting ban are White, but a disproportionate number are Black and other people of color. The Minneapolis NAACP has led a Twitter Storm, which gained national attention, and currently has a petition with over 6,000 signatures requesting Speaker Daudt to provide a hearing, yet the legislature has decided to ignore this issue. We will continue to push the legislature, but in the interim we will use another method to restore voting rights.

The story of my [Jason Sole’s] inability to vote has been featured in numerous outlets. Despite transcending a plethora of collateral consequences, I was subjected to lengthy probation until 2026 for a 2006 conviction, which meant that I wouldn’t be allowed to vote until that time. However, I petitioned the courts for early termination of probation in January, and on March 25th of this year I was discharged, thus restoring my vote! Now, the Minneapolis NAACP will host Restore the Vote Clinics to help probationers and those on supervised release receive early discharge and vote in this upcoming election. This initiative will help reduce mass probation while simultaneously allowing those who have served their time to be civically engaged.

Although Speaker Daudt is refusing to allow the people to be heard in their desire to follow the national trend of voting restoration, we will continue to find ways to defy the tactics of those who choose to maintain power and control. It is especially galling that Speaker Daudt is blocking this legislation, because he has personally benefitted from his influence in ways he is trying to deny his fellow citizens. Speaker Daudt was involved in a gun crime involving a car dispute in Montana just a few years ago

While the details are very sketchy, Daudt was able to sweep this issue aside without any lifelong repercussions.  In the incident involving a car deal gone bad, Daudt’s friend, a 24-year-old who was 16 years his younger, allegedly pointed Daudt’s gun at a family including minor children.

According to Daudt, he “was initially handcuffed while the police sorted things out.” Many Black people end up in the back seat of a police car or in a jail cell while things are being “sorted out.” What did this process of “sorting things out” look like for Kurt Daudt?

These kinds of incidents, where things escalate too quickly or someone is in the wrong place at the wrong time, often have lifelong consequences for people from marginalized communities.  But a privileged and powerful person like Speaker Daudt was able to avoid charges and maintain his position of power.

In another episode, Daudt denies that he benefitted from his position when a law firm that had just won a judgment against him in a debt lawsuit abruptly reversed course and “urged a judge to wipe away the rulings.”  It’s hard to imagine a low-income person of color facing similar debt litigation benefiting from such a reversal.

The Minneapolis NAACP will continue to demand accountability of authority figures who use their power to oppress Black people. It is time for Speaker Daudt and the House to take action on ending voting bans. 

Perry Hopkins, who recently had his voting rights restored in Maryland, described what his inability to vote felt like by stating, “It felt like my hands were tied behind my back and I was being beaten.”  We will not allow the state of Minnesota to remain stagnant with respect to criminal justice reform. We will restore the vote for hundreds in 2016 by petitioning the courts for early termination. As high school students walk out later today, we maintain hopeful that Speaker Daudt will acknowledge the voices of the people and let this bill be heard.