Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Minnesota is known for its relatively high voter participation rates and laws that seek to provide more, not less, opportunity for citizens to cast ballots.

Last year, Minnesota legislators wisely approved changing state law to allow the formerly incarcerated to vote. But this year, a legal challenge to that change highlights why it's important to protect voting rights on a number of fronts.

With that goal in mind, the Legislature should approve the proposed Minnesota Voting Rights Act this session to assure equal access and live up to the intent of the 1965 federal Voting Rights Act.

Congress approved the federal act in part to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. However, in November 2023 the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that only the United States attorney general can enforce Section 2 of the act that prohibits states from setting standards that deny or limit any citizen's right to vote based on their race or color.

The author of the House bill, Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, said the measure would "codify and strengthen protections against suppressing or diluting" the votes of people of color and others who have historically faced discriminatory voting practices.

Greenman told an editorial writer that after the Appeals Court decision, Minnesota urgently needs rules that can "protect and expand our multiracial democracy so that everyone has access to the right to vote." As an attorney with a background in voting rights law, she said that the legislation is especially needed at a time when federal courts are "increasingly hostile to voting rights."

Minnesota is among several states — including Michigan, Maryland, New Jersey and Florida — that are considering taking similar action this year. Generally, state voting rules vary widely. In Maine, Vermont and the District of Columbia, felons can vote even while incarcerated. In more than 20 states, felons regain the right immediately upon release, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Minnesota's top election official, Secretary of State Steve Simon, has voiced his support for the proposed state Voting Rights Act.

"If we can no longer count on the federal Voting Rights Act to allow private citizens to protect their own voting rights, then we need a Minnesota Voting Rights Act to fill the gap," Simon said in legislative testimony last week. "And that's what this bill does. It fills the gap by guaranteeing a day in court for Minnesota voters to defend their voting rights against laws or policies that they believe discriminate against them."

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments this week against the changes passed last year to allow the formerly incarcerated to vote. That change made an estimated 57,000 to 66,000 people eligible to vote in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Voters Alliance asked the court to reinstate its challenge to the year-old law. An attorney for the nonprofit Alliance told justices that the Legislature exceeded its authority when it passed the law last year without restoring other civil rights to released inmates. He argued that voting rights can only be restored along with a package of other civil rights (such as holding elected office and serving on a jury), not independently. The case was expedited to the court, and justices say a decision will come soon — in time for voting that will begin in June.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously voiced its support for extending voting rights to those who have served their time. Restoring those rights is part of the process of rehabilitation, reintegrating former lawbreakers into the community and helping them to become productive citizens.

The Minnesota Voting Rights Act would provide broader support for voting rights in the state — protecting those citizens who too often face discrimination and suppression tactics — and it also should be approved by the Legislature.