By Rick Sattler
I was glad to hear Gov. Kim Reynolds say she supports restoring voting rights to people like me who have felony convictions. I have not been glad to hear state legislators say they think that people should pay off all their restitution before they can vote.
I am someone who is slowly paying off $150,000 in restitution. If legislators pass a law that makes voting dependent on paying restitution there will still be many, many people like myself who still won’t be able to vote. I am 60 and I will be paying off my restitution, at the rate of $100 a month, for the rest of my days on this planet. I can’t vote now and if that sort of law were passed, I still wouldn’t be able to vote—ever.
I was convicted of vehicular homicide 14 years ago—a person lost their life. Before that, my only run-ins with the law were speeding tickets and an OWI. I’d do anything to go back to that day and make a different choice.
For five years, I was on probation. I paid thousands of dollars in expenses and $15,000 in attorney fees. It left me financially devastated and there were dark moments when I didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from.
I’ve slowly rebuilt my life. I have had a job for the past five years with a good employer who unlike a lot of businesses, will look at the individual who is applying and consider giving them a second chance. Some businesses, when they find you have a felony, won’t even interview you. Which, of course, makes paying off restitution all the harder.
The call to require people to completely pay restitution before allowing people like me to vote is confusing. It would actually make the law more restrictive than it is now, in a certain way. In Iowa, you can apply to have your right to vote restored. One of the requirements is that you are current on restitution and fees or fines. So changing it so that people have to pay off all their restitution makes it more strict.
I haven’t gone through the application process. If I mess up and put a wrong answer, I could get slapped with perjury charges. I’d want a lawyer to help me apply, and I don’t have that kind of money.
People think that people convicted of a felony must be walking around with horns and scary tattoos, looking like something out of a prison movie. But I can promise you that a lot of us are just ordinary people who have done something really, really stupid or wrongly put someone in harm’s way. If you look around, we’re your neighbors, your family, your coworkers, and your friends; there are over 60,000 of us who can’t vote because of a felony conviction.
In Iowa, you can be convicted of a Class D felony if you steal a backpack that contains expensive textbooks or an iPhone, if you steal a nice bike, if you get a third OWI, or you punch someone and break their nose.
Here’s the bottom line: What is the goal in banning people like me from voting? I served the terms of my sentence and I am doing my best to be a contributing member of society, being as active and involved in my community as I am able.
Continuing to deprive me of my vote only hurts that reentry process, and that hurts everyone. With some people, when you take away so much from them and drive them even farther away from society, it just alienates them and sets them up to revert to old bad habits.
It’s time for Iowa to join the 48 other states in this country that have recognized that depriving people with felony convictions of the right to vote does not help our society. That in fact, it does just the opposite.