- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A coalition working to restore voting rights to felons who have served their time is trying to convince legislators to change state law.

Members of the Restore the Vote Coalition want Minnesota to join 13 other states that allow felons to vote if they are on parole after being released from prison. The group told Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1oMc3dQ ) that it’s a civil rights issue that will allow thousands of people to have a say in the political process. Supporters kicked off lobbying efforts at the state Capitol Tuesday.

Among the group’s members is Rob Stewart, of Minneapolis, who lost his right to vote in 2006 due to a conviction for first-degree felony drug possession. Under current state law Stewart won’t regain his voting rights until next year, when he is no longer on parole. He and others want the Legislature to change the law so felons are eligible to vote as soon as they leave prison.

“I have been sober and clean since 2007,” Stewart said. “I graduated from college. I’m in a PhD program. I volunteer in the community. I have turned my life around.”

Rep. Ray Dehn and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, two Minneapolis Democrats, said they’re optimistic they can pass legislation to change the law this session. But, House Elections Committee Chair Steve Simon said that’s far from a sure thing.

“The problem that we run into in the Legislature is the bipartisanship requirement,” said Simon. “There’s a real partisan divide on this issue. In order to have this signed into law, the governor has made clear, with all election items, there’s going to need to be bipartisan support and there is very, very little of that right now.”

The Minnesota County Attorneys Association, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and the Minnesota Catholic Conference support the change. They cite University of Minnesota statistics that say 63,000 convicted felons were ineligible to vote in 2012.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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