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Iowa Supreme Court Begins Felon Voting-Rights Hearing

Past felony convictions ban some Iowans from voting for life. (Pixabay)
Past felony convictions ban some Iowans from voting for life. (Pixabay)
March 30, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Iowa Supreme Court is to hear arguments today in a case that potentially could lift the state's lifetime voting ban for people with felonies.

The Iowa Constitution denies voting rights for anyone convicted of an "infamous crime," the definition of which has been debated for quite some time. Veronica Fowler, a spokeswoman for the ACLU of Iowa, said this lack of clarity could prevent nearly 6 percent of Iowans from voting for life.

"We believe that the Iowa Constitution doesn't allow for the disqualification for people with felonies in their background," she said, "but instead only for those crimes that undermined elections and voting."

Supporters of current law argue that if that is the case, it would be difficult to determine which felonies would be applicable and could undermine the elections process. The ACLU of Iowa is challenging the law on behalf of Kelli Jo Griffin, who mistakenly voted in a local election after completing parole for a drug conviction.

In 2005, then-Gov. Tom Vilsack established a policy that allowed offenders to regain their voting rights upon release. But in 2011, Gov. Terry Branstad established a required voting restoration process for felons through his office. Fowler said it has led to much confusion among eligible voters.

"The ACLU of Iowa and a number of other voting-rights advocacy groups are working very hard to make sure that as many eligible Iowans as possible can vote," she said. "Voting is a fundamental right that's assured to you by the Constitution, and it's an important part of our democracy."

Currently, voting rights cannot be restored for Iowans with felony convictions unless they undergo an approval process through the governor's office. Florida and Kentucky are the only other states with similar policies.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IA