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Voting rights forum highlights issues ahead

What is the right balance between ensuring eligible voters are able to cast their ballots while barring those without voting rights from the polls?

That was one of the issues before a panel discussion at the Crow Wing County Voting Rights Forum Thursday night. The forum drew about 60 people to the cafeteria at Central Lakes College. Voting rights, who is eligible to vote, who can’t vote and what assistance voters may receive at the polls were highlighted along with existing laws and proposed changes such as requiring a photo identification to vote.

The panel included Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, former secretary of state; Pamela Hoopes, Minnesota Disability Law Center legal director; Dan McGrath, Minnesota Majority; Charles Samuelson, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota executive director; and Claire Wilson, Secretary of State’s office voter outreach director.

The panel provided different perspectives on a number of points including whether the law should be changed to allow felons to vote while they are on probation. In North Dakota, felons may vote when they are no longer in custody. Other states take away a felon’s right to vote upon conviction and never return it. In Minnesota, felons may vote after completing their sentence.

The panelists spent a good portion of their time on rules surrounding guardianships. Four people, who had their voting rights eliminated with their guardianships, voted in the 2010 election in Crow Wing County. Kiffmeyer said that clearly shows there is a problem in practice and not just as a state constitutional issue. A suggested change is a limited guardianship to draw a more clear distinction between those who can vote and those whose rights were removed by the court. Panelists were divided on the idea of requiring a photo identification to vote and whether it provided greater confidence in the election or disenfranchised voters by creating a barrier. The session was sponsored by the Crow Wing County attorney’s office and the auditor-treasurer’s office.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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