Improving MN's Voting System
Studies in the United States and those comparing voter turnout in different countries conclude that voters' level of education influences their likelihood of voting when they are required to register. A Wisconsin study summarizes that, "In study after study conducted over the last five decades, researchers find a robust relationship between individuals’ levels of education and their likelihood of voting."
"While only 51% of those with a junior high education reported that they had voted in the 2004 presidential election, 92% of the college educated did so" (Lewis-Beck et al. 2008, 102). One of the reasons that researchers mention for this gap in voter turnout is that education makes it easier to navigate voter registration requirements and other obstacles to voting
A comparison across countries also found that the educational gap in voter turnout is greatly reduced when ballots are simple and voter registration is done by the state rather than initiated by the voter. The United States where almost all states require the voter to initiate registration had the largest gap between those with more and those with less education.
A report written by Erin Sapp of Heartland Democracy recommends a universal voter registration system. A 21st century voter registration system would place responsibility for ensuring maximal voter registration on the governmental agencies whose mission is to serve communities, voters, and a well functioning democracy. States could use information from driver’s licenses, tax returns, and social service databases to register voters; offer pre-registration in high schools for students aged 16+; and update registries from change-of-address forms. Implementing a system that moves toward universal voter registration would both ensure complete and clean rolls and foster participation by all eligible voters.
In Dorm Room Dealers: Drugs and the Privileges of Race and Class, A. Rafik Mohamed and Erik D. Fritsvold point out that the rate of illicit drug and substance use is lower among young black adults than among young white adults, 34% versus 39%. This means there are there are about 5 million white 18-to-25 year olds who are regular illicit drug users compared to about 1 million black users. Yet half the people in state prisons for drug use are black. Dorm-room dealing is low-risk because white, middle-class youth are "anti-targets" in the "war on drugs." The authors explain that white dorm room dealers are invisible to law enforcement because they do not fit the image of a drug dealer, or their drug dealing is ignored by the college's authorities. Young black men are much more subject to searches and consequently much more frequently arrested for possession of drugs.
Former Prisoner Confusion on Voting Eligibility
While former prisoners are allowed to vote in some states, in Minnesota, they are not allowed to vote until they complete their probation. County attorneys report that some former prisoners do not realize that they are ineligible to vote. At the same time, campaigners report meeting former prisoners who have completed their probation, but don't know that they can vote. Some skip voting for many years before someone informs them that they are eligible to vote.
Voting Rights Decrease Recidivism and Racial Disparity
Citizens for Election Integrity recommends that people who have completed their prison time be given the right to vote. Their report reveals that the number of crimes classified as felonies, and therefore the number of felons, has skyrocketed in Minnesota in the last 35 years as it has in the rest of the nation. The U.S. is now the nation with the largest percent of its population in prison. As a result felon disenfranchisement has increased 775%.
In the Citizens for Election Integrity Report, Kathy Bonnefield and Carol Johnson state that this change could decrease recidivism rates and would also decrease the racial disparity connected to felon disenfranchisement in Minnesota.