Q&A: How MN Restored Voting for 55,000

Restore the Vote, a law that passed in 2023 allowing Minnesotans who are not currently incarcerated for a felony conviction to vote, matters to young people – and any people -–  who have been incarcerated or know others who have been. About 55,000 people can now vote as a result of the law.

Wintana Melekin - Marquan
Wintana Melekin, an organizer at Restore the Vote MN, is photographed in the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Feb. 19, 2024. (ThreeSixty Journalism/Marquan Harper)

Dylan Leung and Marquan Harper interviewed Minnesota Democratic Rep. Cedrick Frazier and voting rights advocate Wintana Melekin about the law and why it matters.

Why is this law important to you? 

With the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, a young Black man was murdered with virtually no consequences. Not only are we being murdered at really high rates and not having the folks that harm us seeing the consequences, we also are being funneled into the criminal justice system. The result of that is, when we’re released, we don’t have access to voting rights. Or we didn’t until Minnesota passed this law. After being incarcerated, it’s also very difficult to get access to housing and jobs. I saw this bill as one piece of making life a little bit easier for people impacted by the criminal justice system.

How does Restore the Vote affect communities in Minnesota?

Many people on probation in Minnesota live in rural places. Some hotspots are low-income white communities and Native American reservations. Restore the Vote impacts everybody of all political backgrounds, not just Black and brown communities.

On the first day the new law went into effect, a group of people who were all impacted by this literally watched officials sign their voter registration forms and give them to the Secretary of State. I had folks telling me how they felt like they were fully a part of society. They said they felt like real neighbors, real community members; and that was simply through the state acknowledging them, telling them that they are part of our democracy.

I think anytime you make people feel whole and human, and like a neighbor, they’re more likely to get more involved in their community.

Why should people care about Restore the Vote?

Voting rights laws dramatically impact what happens to our democracy. The people who have access to a ballot decide who is the U.S. president as well as who is in local government. It massively impacts people’s lives. It also shows people that you’re a full citizen, that you have every right and can participate in our democracy. It also shows that we value your opinion. We want you to be able to tell us who your mayor should be. You should be able to decide what happens in your kid’s school through school board elections. Not only is it just very validating to individuals on the human level, but it also impacts our entire democracy.

How quickly can we feel the impact? 

It can take years to convince someone to vote, especially when they’ve been denied the right to vote for so long. In Minnesota, a lot of people will get off probation and think they still don’t have the right to vote – because while on probation, they were told they can’t vote. A quick increase in voter turnout is never guaranteed when states pass this law.

Dylan worked with reporter Trisha Ahmed of The Associated Press to finish his story. This story was completed at ThreeSixty’s Winter News Team: Capitol Edition in February 2024, where high school journalists covered important legislative issues, impacting Minnesota youth. Read more stories here.