Iowa should restore felon’s voting rights

“A person convicted of any infamous crime shall not be entitled to the privilege of an elector” (Iowa Const. Art. 2 § 5). 

Iowa remains one of the two states, alongside Kentucky, to impose permanent disenfranchisement for all people with felony convictions, unless the government approves individual rights restoration. On June 30, 2016, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the state’s disenfranchisement law with a 4-3 split decision in the case Griffin v. Pate. 

Currently, the only way for an ex-felon to regain the right to vote, even after completing a full sentence, goes through the process of applying to the Office of the Governor. According to the constitution of Iowa, the governor has the discretion to restore voting rights or not. 

Fortunately for the ex-felons of today, the current Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, is fighting for their right for a second chance. 

Reynolds is a recipient of second chances herself, regarding her past addiction with alcohol and drunken driving arrests. In an interview she gave to the Des Moines Register, she stated her past struggles and stressed the importance of granting people an opportunity to change. “I believe that people make mistakes and there’s opportunities to change, and that needs to be recognized, so it’s something that I’m passionate about.” 

Her passion for the voting rights of felons drove her to put this bipartisan issue on the table multiple times since she has been in the office. Reynolds attempted to make the process of applications to gain back the right to vote for felons easier by sending them application papers at the end of their sentences; she has restored the voting rights of 88 Iowa felons since the beginning of her service as a governor. 

Recently, she proposed a constitutional amendment addressing felons’ rights; however, the process of approval of this proposal by the lawmakers is a yearslong process. Therefore, advocates for criminal justice ask the governor to take an immediate action through an executive order. 

Reynolds’ response to the demand was descriptive of her desire to make things permanent, a change that wouldn’t be affected by the differing decisions of every single governor that takes her place in the future. 

Unfortunately, her proposal lasted until Sen. Brad Zaun took the measure off the committee’s calendar, denying it a vote, thus killing its chances of advancing this year. Reynolds’ office released a statement right after, stating her disappointment but hope of a vision and mission to continue the fight for Iowans who deserve a second chance.

Each state has its own laws regarding disenfranchisement, and Iowa is known to have one of the most strict laws when it comes to the voting rights of felons. As of today, an estimated number of 6.1 million Americans with a felony conviction are barred from voting in elections. Vermont and Maine are the only two states where felons are allowed to vote while in prison. 

Felons who have paid their debt to society by completing their sentences should be able to have their rights, specifically rights to have a say in the governing of the country they live in.

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