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DFL expands precinct caucus participation to felons, people in US illegally

Extending participation in the party to people typically excluded from the political process is the culmination of a six-year effort according to DFL Chairman Ken Martin, who said he first started pushing for the change in 2016.

DFL caucus in Duluth
Second Precinct Chairman John Doberstein counts people volunteering to be delegates to a state meeting during a 2016 caucus at Duluth East High School.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party will now allow people in the U.S. illegally and those serving felony probation to participate in its caucuses, serve as delegates and hold leadership positions in the party.

DFL leadership announced the expansion of participation at a Wednesday, Jan. 26, news conference, with the party's central committee voting unanimously to make the change the night before.

Extending participation in the party to people typically excluded from the political process is the culmination of a six-year effort according to DFL Chairman Ken Martin, who said he first started pushing for the change in 2016.

Minnesota law prohibits felons serving probation and people in the country illegally from voting, something that until recently applied to party caucuses where members can introduce proposals for the state party platform and elect local leadership. Democrats voted at their state convention in 2018 to grant full party participation to noncitizens, people in the U.S. illegally, and felons who had not yet had their voting rights restored but later learned that state law stood in the way.

Ken Martin.jpg
Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin

The DFL couldn't get Republican support to change the state statute and pursued the legal route to change the rules, Martin said. In 2020, the DFL and activist Noah McCourt, who was serving five years of probation for a felony sentence, sued the state of Minnesota to challenge its ban on felons from participating in precinct caucuses, arguing the law violated the First Amendment. District courts dismissed both actions, and while the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court decisions in early January, it also ruled the state's law banning felons on probation from voting did not apply to caucuses.

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The appeals court decision opened the door for the DFL to expand participation at its precinct caucuses. Ineligible voters will be able to participate for the first time at the 2022 caucuses next week.

Minnesota Republican Party Chairman David Hann and Deputy Chair Donna Bergstrom in a statement condemned the DFL's decision to allow ineligible voters to participate and questioned the legality of the move.

“Citizenship comes with certain rights and privileges. Noncitizens do not have those rights and should not gain those privileges," Hann said. "Citizenship is the foundation of the civic compact. By rejecting citizenship, the DFL has rejected the foundation of our democratic republic.”

Minnesota Precinct Caucuses begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 1. The DFL is holding most of its caucuses virtually as a precaution against COVID-19. More information on finding local caucuses can be found on the Minnesota Secretary of State website: https://caucusfinder.sos.state.mn.us/.

Readers can reach Alex Derosier at aderosier@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter @xanderosier.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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