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Historic Roots of Felon Disenfranchisement

Historically, governments have limited the voting rights of people with criminal records based on a belief that voting is not a right, but a privilege. The ancient Roman idea that civil death the loss of an individual’s civil rights, typically as punishment for a crime. In the U.S., being convicted of a felony can result in the loss of the right to vote was a severe punishment for those who broke the law set the standard for modern governments to define moral boundaries on the right to vote.  

People who were convicted of crimes were unfortunately easy to label as having “low moral standards” which can imply that they were not trustworthy enough to vote.

Felon disenfranchisement preventing (a person or group of people) from having the right to vote took on an additional purpose in the United States after the Civil War, when Southern states used a combination of harsh criminal punishments and subsequent disenfranchisement of people with criminal records to remove African Americans from the voting polls.

The History of Felon Disenfranchisement in Minnesota

The laws regarding felon disenfranchisement in Minnesota have been in place since Minnesota gained statehood in 1857, barring those who have been convicted of felonies from voting until the end of their sentences, which includes probation and parole.

This ban was established for essentially the same reasons as the bans in other states, modeled after the “civil death” penalties of Ancient Rome to limit the voting power to those deemed morally appropriate.

There was a contentious debate when the Minnesota State Constitution was being drafted as to whether or not African American men should have the right to vote, and though they gained the vote in Minnesota eleven years later in 1868, felon disenfranchisement remained an indirect method of disenfranchising the community. However, the scope of those disenfranchised by Minnesota’s law has grown significantly since the law was established (since the number of crimes classified as felonies has grown and the addition of parole and probation to criminal sentences has lengthened the time that those with felony convictions have had to wait for their vote to be restored).

Today, Minnesota has an above-average rate of felon disenfranchisement in comparison to other states, with 1.5% of its voting age population unable to vote due to a past conviction.