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Senate panel approves restoring felon voting rights

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Brian Riehm (Left) tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he’d like to earn his right to vote back after getting a felony conviction. The bill’s author, Sen. Bobby Jo Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, sits by his side. Tom Scheck | MPR News

A Senate committee approved a bill Thursday that gives convicted felons the right to vote after they have served their time.

Minnesota law prevents people who have been incarcerated and are on parole or probation from voting.

The legislation, which is sponsored by DFL Sen. Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis, has widespread support from a variety of groups and legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota vice chair Walter Hudson said voting helps people released from prison rejoin society.

“Participation in the political process conveys a sense of belonging and investment in the community that those seeking reconciliation ought to have.”

At least two Republicans on the committee said they are concerned that some people who commit crimes but are required to be on probation rather than go to jail would still be able to vote.

"We rely very heavily on our probation services to try to transition folks back into the community," said Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said people required to do workhouse time, for instance, would not be able to vote while in the program.

Freeman is among those who supports the bill. People who are on parole often try to vote even though they can't, which creates administrative headaches for election officials.