Election Integrity Task Force delivers recommendation to Gov. Dayton

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St. Paul, MN – Today the Election Integrity Task Force delivered a First Interim Report and Initial Recommendation to Gov. Mark Dayton, highlighting recommendations to prevent felons from voting before their civil rights are restored.

Established by the Governor’s Executive Order 11-18, over the past several months the fifteen member Task Force has focused its time on this issue, both because it was central to the Governor’s Executive Order and because it is an area of election law in which it would be possible to find consensus among the bi-partisan Task Force members.

The Task Force has begun exploring the merits of the system used in North Dakota and 13 other states, where felons cannot vote while they are incarcerated and regain their voting rights when they are released from prison.  “Republican Secretary of State Al Jaeger of North Dakota briefed the Task Force on the simplicity of their system,” said Secretary of State Mark Ritchie.  “This approach has lots of benefits.  It would be easier to administer, would save local governments money – allowing limited taxpayer dollars to be focused on other priorities, and, studies show, would reduce recidivism by helping to integrate felons into the community.”  The Task Force plans to continue to study the North Dakota model to assess whether it should be recommended for adoption by the legislature.

The Task Force began looking at the North Dakota model after examining the complexities of the judicial and corrections systems. “It’s amazing how complex this all is:  some felons are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections; others report to county probation officers; still others report directly to the court; even if you’re convicted of a felony, whether you lose your voting rights depends upon the sentence you’re given; on top of that, some felons on ‘administrative probation’ may not talk to a probation officer for years,” said Joe Nuñez, Co-Chair of the Election Integrity Task Force. “No wonder there’s significant confusion among the public, election judges, election administrators and even individuals convicted of felonies, about who is or is not eligible to vote.”

Short of moving to the North Dakota model, the Task Force is making some specific recommendations for improving Minnesota’s current system.

The recommendations, which were approved unanimously by the members of the Task Force, include:

Urging the legislature to adopt legislation to:
• Provide authority and adequate funding to the Department of Corrections and the Office of the Secretary of State to transmit data on those currently serving felony sentences both before and after state general elections to flag those who should not be voting and identify anyone who does;
• Require written notification be provided to felons when their right to vote has been restored;
• Reduce the penalty for cases in which an individual who is not eligible has registered to vote, but not voted, from a felony to a misdemeanor;
• Make the standard for investigating and prosecuting election law violations the same as that used for all other crimes;
• Clarify that signing a roster at a polling place serves as sufficient evidence of an individual’s intention to vote;
• Prohibit absentee ballots from being sent or delivered to an individual who provides the address of a facility that only houses felony-level offenders.

Encouraging the Courts to change several documents used during the court process to ensure that those being convicted of felonies are aware that they are losing the right to vote until they complete their full sentence, including probation and parole.

Having the Office of the Secretary of State to provide new signage for polling places, warning convicted felons that it is a felony to vote before probation is completed.

Both Secretary Ritchie and Joe Nuñez agree that, “We are proud of the work that the Task Force has already accomplished and hope that our initial recommendations are given serious consideration.  As co-chairs, we look forward to continuing to work with the other Task Force members over the next year as we prepare to make our final report to the governor on Jan. 15, 2013.”

The Task Force is made up of two members (one from each caucus) of the Minnesota House and of the Minnesota Senate, the Secretary of State, designees of the Department of Corrections and the Courts, and representatives of the Association of Minnesota Counties, the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Township Association, and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.  The legislative members are Senators Roger Chamberlain and Katie Sieben and Representatives Mike Benson and Steve Simon.

The Task Force’s full report can be found at www.sos.state.mn.us.


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