Editorial Roundup: Automatic voter registration would help diversify juries

Published 8:50 pm Friday, April 7, 2023

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We have supported proposals to strengthen Minnesota’s voting laws by expanding access and making it easier to vote. We also support automatic voter registration, which would have the added benefit of helping diversity jury pools in Minnesota.

A Minnesota Supreme Court study from 2018 showed most juries in Minnesota did not reflect the population, particularly people of color. Whites make up 82% of the population in Minnesota but are 88% of juries. In Blue Earth County, the study showed a non-white population of 10%, but only 4% ended up on juries. In Hennepin County, Blacks make up 14% of the population, but they represent just 7% of the jury pools.

Last year, public defenders across the state petitioned judges arguing jury pools were unbalanced, and Hennepin County District Court Judge John Lucas ruled in January that statewide action was needed to correct the problem.

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Jury lists are pulled from voter registration rolls, drivers’ licenses and other ID lists. But people of color are underrepresented in those lists because fewer are registered to vote or have drivers’ licenses compared to the white population. Automatic voter registration would expand the number of people of color on the jury lists.

The policy would be a simple way to diversify juries and provide equal treatment under the law for people of color. Some 20 other states have an automatic voter registration laws.
Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty, a former public defender, told the Star Tribune automatic voter registration would make a significant difference in getting more diverse juries. Studies show those juries have better deliberations and enhance the credibility of the legal system as a whole.

The racially unbalanced juries in Minnesota are another example of the troubling racial disparities filtering through all of Minnesota’s civic and cultural life. Automatic voter registration would be a good start to solving that inequity.

—Mankato Free press, March 31