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Republicans prevent former felons being informed of voting rights

by Eric Ferguson on June 12, 2013 · 3 comments

Sen. Scott Newman, voting rights opponentAccording to MPR, Republicans, or rather, one specific Republican, was able to prevent former felons being informed of when their voting rights are restored.

State legislators decided to strip the requirement to provide written notification to felons about their voting eligibility in response to objections from State Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

Newman, the Senate author of last year’s voter ID constitutional amendment, argued that judges and probation officers could notify felons more easily and at less cost than the secretary of state. He also said he didn’t think it was appropriate to give special treatment to felons.

Presumably Newman had this effect because he had the other Republicans going along, so maybe it should be “Republicans” plural. The Republicans effectively had a veto on election law changes because Gov. Dayton insisted all election law changes be bi-partisan. The case for requiring bi-partisanship is defensible: imposing changes through one party makes them less likely to be accepted as legitimate. On the other hand, necessary changes can be stopped for partisan reasons too, as happened here.
 

The problem is some former felons are voting or registering to vote before their rights are restored. Thinking back to the debate over photo ID requirements for voting, the only real problem discovered, pretty close to 100% of all real illegal voting, was former felons whose rights hadn’t been restored. Former felons are allowed to vote once they’re done with all parole and probation, colloquially referred to as “off-paper”. It might sound straightforward, but the fact so many get confused and get it wrong suggests there are nuances that make it confusing. Also keep in mind we’re considering only those trying to vote even though they shouldn’t. Some unknown number avoid voting even though they should, because they wrongly think they can’t. Some states prohibit former felons from voting ever again, and there’s a widespread misconception that this is the law everywhere. Everyone who doorknocks eventually comes across former felons who wrongly think they can’t vote, so while we can’t know the number, we know it’s more than zero.

 

Funny thing, but I can’t help noticing Republicans want to play up illegal voting when it comes to clinging to some shred of reality to support their belief Democrats in though massive voter fraud, yet block all attempts to fix the problem. The bogus arguments from Sen. Newman illustrate the point.

 

Newman, the Senate author of last year’s voter ID constitutional amendment [italics mine], argued that judges and probation officers could notify felons more easily and at less cost than the secretary of state. He also said he didn’t think it was appropriate to give special treatment to felons.
 
“We do not provide special notice for students, for instance, who come in from out of state,” Newman said. “We don’t provide special notice to, say, students who live in one community, move to another community for purposes of going to school. We don’t provide special notice to someone who turns 18 and is now eligible to vote.”

So we shouldn’t tell people when they can vote because there might be a cheaper way to do it — which we also aren’t going to do. Maybe parole and probation officers could notify former felons already, but clearly they don’t, for whatever reason. Seeing the system has broken down somewhere and is easily fixed, clearly we should … leave it broken.
 
By the way, could Sen. Newman explain what “special notice” means? The information about students voting can be broadly disseminated because they know if they’re living at home or where they attend school. Former felons are in individual circumstances which clearly aren’t clear, or so many wouldn’t be guessing wrong. Their situation is individual, so the notification has to be individual too. Then again, Republicans generally oppose student voting too, and take measures to prevent students from voting where Republicans have control, so maybe to Newman his argument makes sense.

“I don’t think I ever singled out or specified one particular group of voters as the reason for voter ID,” he said. “Felons voting is simply one of the problems I believe exists.”

 
We have to love that “I believe exists”. Never mind the utter lack of evidence. He believes it, and that’s all that matters. But assume there are multiple problems: apparently, since former felon voting isn’t the only problem, it shouldn’t be fixed. I guess we’d have to live in Newman’s world for that to makes sense.

 
If we really wanted to fix the problem of letting former felons know if they can vote, we would do what the smart states so, at least the states smart on this one issue. Set a standard where if you’re in jail, you can’t vote. If you’re out, you can. If anyone is confused, the cell door or lack thereof blocking your trip to the polls should clear up the confusion.
 
Yet we won’t fix the problem. Well, Republicans won’t. Why? Don’t say photo ID would have fixed it, because it wouldn’t. Someone on parole or probation can still have a valid drivers license, and someone whose rights have been restored might not have any acceptable photo ID, so photo ID wouldn’t fix it. So this isn’t about photo ID. Could it be about the Republican belief illegal votes by former felons let Al Franken “steal” the 2008 election? There weren’t enough illegal votes to flip even that narrow result, but the claim does betray the assumption that former felons all vote Democratic. All of them, really? Most is plausible. Former felons presumably can figure out like everyone else targeted by Republicans that Democrats try to protect their voting rights while Republicans try to take them away. That might make them inclined to vote Democratic.
 
So the right to vote is contingent on voting Republican? Somehow, I get the feeling that’s really what this is all about.
 

JacobGrippen June 13, 2013 at 6:28 pm

I have to give Republican Representative Tim Sanders credit for asking some very good questions of Senator Newman during the Conference Committee on May 16th. He basically said, “the House GOP caucus is on board with this, and this was a Mike Benson (R-Rochester) bill during the last session, what’s the problem with felon notification?” During the course of the conference committee Senator Newman made his “special notification” argument, and again, Rep. Tim Sanders countered with almost exactly what you said in your paragraph, and expanded on it by saying something like, “Students and people who move haven’t lost their voting rights, felons have, so it is definitely different.”

I look forward to seeing what happens during the 2014 session with regard to this issue.

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