Restore the vote for state criminals

Daily Editorial Board

Last week, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe restored voting rights to more than 200,000 convicted felons. McAuliffe overturned a piece of Civil War-era legislation created to disenfranchise African-Americans. 
Now, convicted felons who have served their prison time and finished parole will enjoy full constitutional voting rights.
Virginia’s move brings it in line with states like Minnesota, but the country as a whole has yet to restore the vote to former felons in a meaningful way. Disenfranchising them disproportionately harms the black community, which makes up 37 percent of Minnesota’s prisoners but only 6 percent of the state’s overall population. 
After finishing parole, most felons work within the community, support their families and pay taxes. Yet the “Restore the Vote – Minnesota” coalition estimates that the percentage of voting-age Minnesotans disenfranchised through criminal conviction has increased by more than 400 percent since 1974. 
Re-entering society after a prison sentence is already extraordinarily difficult, with many barriers to employment and education. Denying those who have finished their sentence the basic right to vote is undemocratic, smacks of racism and further prevents felons from becoming part of local communities. 
Restoring the right to vote was a main item in the United Black Legislative Agenda, but action on voting rights is unlikely in a GOP-controlled House. Stifling efforts to expand suffrage is shameful behavior from Republicans. In a democratic society, there are few priorities more pressing than protecting a person’s constitutional right to vote. 
People of color are already underrepresented in the Minnesota Legislature — our state legislators shouldn’t be denying them access to democratic procedures like voting as well.