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HOUSE PASSES ELECTIONS OMNIBUS BILL, WHICH INCLUDES THE MINNESOTA STATE VOTING RIGHTS ACT

St Paul, Minnesota— Today, the Minnesota House passed the Elections Omnibus Bill (HF 4772), including the Minnesota Voting Rights Act (MNVRA) which takes critical steps to protect the cornerstones of democracy. By passing the MNVRA, Minnesota would codify the protections offered by the federal Voting Rights Act into state law to ensure ballot access and protect voters from disenfranchisement.

Codifying these rights through the MNVRA will help to protect voting rights and access, especially in communities of color and other groups whose voting rights have been eroded. The MNVRA will ensure that Minnesota voters always have rights under state law to challenge barriers to effective participation in their communities. That state protection is needed to safeguard against national efforts to weaken voter protections – especially in marginalized communities. The measures will also help Minnesota thwart efforts to sabotage free and fair elections.

"The bill corrects historical wrongs and federal mistakes,” said Elections and Policy Chair Mike Freiberg at a press conference this morning. “It improves the clarity of how our elections are influenced, and it expands voter access for eligible students. These are all provisions that we heard throughout this year in the elections committee. It includes Representative Greenman's Voting Rights Act, which Representative Frazier talked about as an extremely important piece of legislation that's necessary because of a misguided federal court decision."

"This bill codifies and strengthens the federal Voting Rights Act protections against racial discrimination and puts them into Minnesota law," said Representative Emma Greenman. “Our goal with all of these provisions is ensuring equal access, ensuring robust participation, ensuring that we, Minnesota's democracy, includes everybody in our community, of every race, of every zip code, of every generation."

In 1965, Congress took a crucial step forward with the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act, striking down racial discriminatory voting practices and ensuring every eligible citizen could cast their ballot. Despite the passage of the voting-related 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments, the federal VRA was – and is still – needed to establish proactive, concrete protections for the right to vote and ensure all citizens have an equal opportunity to exercise their freedom to vote. Over the years, federal courts have chipped away at that progress, impeding individuals and civil rights advocates from effectively leveraging the protections afforded by the federal Voting Rights Act.

Last November, the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals stripped Americans of the ability to challenge discriminatory practices in court under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The court’s opinion severely restricts the ability of individuals and civil rights groups to use the federal Voting Rights Act to combat racial discrimination in voting. This decision, which affected seven states, including Minnesota, undermines the very foundation of our democracy.

"The Minnesota Voting Rights Act serves as a crucial safeguard against discrimination and disenfranchisement," said Representative Cedrick Frazier. "Every Minnesotan, regardless of their background, deserves equal access to participate in our democratic process."

"While we should celebrate being a state with some of the highest voter turnouts in the nation, there are also stark racial disparities in who actually registers and turns out to vote," said Khalid Omar, community organizer and Bloomington resident. “It is our responsibility to ensure that discriminatory voting practices and policies are not one of those reasons why people don't vote. That's why Minnesota needs its own Voting Rights Act, so we can protect people in my community and also in the larger Minnesota community from intentionally or unintentionally voter suppression.”

“As Black voters face the greatest assault on voting rights since Jim Crow, Minnesota has an opportunity in 2024 to continue is progress in advancing the freedom to vote and join the growing list of states protecting voters against unequal access to the ballot,” said Michael Pernick, Voting Rights Attorney of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The Minnesota Voting Rights Act’s provisions include:

• Prohibition Against Voter Suppression: tackling voter suppression due to barriers that deny voting opportunities to voters of color.

• Prohibition Against Vote Dilution: tackling unfair districts or at-large elections that weaken or drown out the voices of black voters and other voters of color.

• Efficient and Clear Rules: adopting clear and efficient standards to make cases more predictable, efficient, and effective.

• Notice and Safe Harbor: requiring good-faith negotiation before lawsuits to fix voting discrimination as efficiently and inexpensively as possible for all parties.

• Enshrining the “Democracy Canon”: instructing state judges to interpret election laws in a pro-voter way whenever reasonably possible.

Just last week, the Star Tribune and Mankato Free Press editorialized in support of the Minnesota Voting Rights Act, making the case that this will ensure all Minnesotans have a say in our democracy, no matter where they live, what they look like, or who they vote for. Six states have already enacted similar voting rights acts, and it is time for Minnesota to join them in supporting democracy.

The bill now heads on to the Minnesota Senate.

 

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