A tough case for the MN Supreme Court: Voting rights for those on probation, supervised release

People at press conference
Elizer Darris says he pays taxes, volunteers and makes other contributions to his community, yet he won’t be eligible to vote until 2025 when his supervised release from a second-degree murder conviction ends. Lawyers argued his case before the Minnesota Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

More than 50,000 Minnesotans — many of them Black, Indigenous and people of color — are kept from voting because of their criminal record. Two of the people who are fighting to regain their right to vote sat in the Minnesota Supreme Court chamber Tuesday as their case was heard.

If they win, tens of thousands of Minnesotans who are “on paper,” or on probation or supervised release, stand to get a chance to vote much sooner than they otherwise would.

Jennifer Schroeder and Elizer Darris are the two members of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Secretary of State’s office who appeared in the chamber, Bakst said. They’re both formerly incarcerated: Darris is on supervised release until 2025, and Schroeder is on probation until 2053.

The plaintiffs are being represented by the ACLU of Minnesota. They’re arguing that people on probation and supervised release like Schroeder and Darris are contributing members of society by every measure, so there’s no reason to keep them from voting.

The state is arguing that the courts have no say here due to constitutional constraints, and that change needs to come through legislature.

Bakst said one big question is whether the Supreme Court can find a constitutional violation in the case within its jurisdiction to remedy. One such potential violation: the fact that communities of color are especially affected by the current system.

There has been a bipartisan effort in the MN legislature to change the law and grant voting rights to people on probation and supervised relief, but it hasn’t been enough to get past a divided legislature.

Brian Bakst is covering the story for MPR News. He joined host Cathy Wurzer to tell her more.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.