Minnesota considers comprehensive elections bill, backed by Somali community leaders

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(ABC 6 News) – Somali people from communities across Southeast Minnesota have dealt with barriers when it comes to voting. Community members say that although they are tax-paying, United States citizens, they feel let down by the current system.

“For them to have their dignity or their rights taken away or not accommodated in the areas of elections is really ridiculous,” said Salah Mohamed, an organizer with the Southeaster Minnesota Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH.

Mohamed recalled a time during the 2020 election when he was removed from a polling place after going in to help translate for Somali elders.

Lawmakers in a House elections committee passed a broad elections bill Wednesday, that democratic lawmakers say would help non-English speakers vote.

The bill is a broad package. It restores a felon’s right to vote as long as they are no longer incarcerated. It gives 16 and 17-year-olds the option to pre-register to vote, and green-lights automatic voter registration. It also mandates translators and multilingual voting instructions in certain situations. And, it regulates campaign donations and disclosures.

Senator Liz Boldon (DFL – Rochester) authors the companion bill in the Senate. She says the bill prohibits foreign-owned companies from investing in Minnesota election campaigns.

“I am really, really excited about this,” Boldon said. “Democracy was another thing that I heard over and over from people across the district. That they want to protect and enhance it.”

Other local representatives maintain that provisions like automatic voter registration leave the state open to voter fraud.

“Frankly, I wish that we would take seriously integrity and make sure that our citizens are assured of the integrity. To say that there isn’t a problem, and this won’t increase the opportunity for problem, is trivializing the facts,” said Representative Duane Quam (R – Byron.)

The Muslim Coalition of ISAIAH supports many different provisions in the bill and says that it takes the state one step closer to a more equitable democratic process. The full bill text can be viewed here.