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Restore voting rights without obstacles

Published: Monday, Nov. 26, 2012 11:19 a.m. CDT

To the editor:

Iowa is among those states with the most restrictive rules for restoring the right to vote after incarceration. Iowa’s Constitution places the power to restore an ex-felon’s right to vote with the Governor.

The current restoration process, as established by Gov. Terry Branstad, requires that an ex-felon who is no longer under correctional supervision must have paid off all court-related debt prior to having the right to vote restored. Previously, Governors Vilsack and Culver issued executive orders restoring the rights of all felons to vote after they had completed correctional supervision.  

Nationally, 36 states plus the District of Columbia automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons either after they have left prison or after they have completed correctional supervision; two states (Maine and Vermont) allow them to vote while in prison.

The 12 remaining states have various restrictions prohibiting ex-felons who have paid their debt to society from voting, such as having paid all court debt, a certain period of time having passed after they were discharged from parole, and even prohibiting some ex-felons from ever voting based on their crime.

After meeting with officials from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last week, Gov. Branstad says he is interested in streamlining the process ex-felons must undergo in Iowa to have their voting rights restored.

The League of Women Voters of Iowa fully supports Gov. Branstad in this effort.  A League principle states that “every citizen should be protected in the right to vote ... and that no person or group should suffer legal, economic or administrative discrimination.”

Because blacks are disproportionally represented in Iowa’s prison population (blacks are less than 3 percent of the state’s population but make up 25 percent of the prison population), these financial barriers in restoring the right to vote restrict minority voting in Iowa. To quote Jotaka Eaddy, senior director of voting rights at the NAACP, the black population is “being tied to the vestiges of Jim Crow.”

Charles Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship and former counsel to President Richard Nixon, saw no point in denying the right to vote for those who have already served their time.

“Voting does not put anyone in danger,” he wrote, “Sound public policy would teach us that if we want to turn ex-offenders into responsible citizens, we must demand of them responsible behavior. And once they demonstrate responsible behavior, what possible justification is there, beyond scoring political points during an election, for stripping them of their civil right for the rest of their lives?”

We urge Gov. Brandstad and his staff to remove the financial barriers for the restoration of voting rights for felons in Iowa.

Bonnie Pitz

President

League of Women

Voters of Iowa

Newton

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