Get the Facts on Felony Disenfranchisement in Iowa

From 2005-2011, Iowa successfully implemented a system of automatic restoration of voting rights once people finished their criminal sentence, restoring the right to vote to over 115,000 Iowans. But in 2011, Governor Branstad ended automatic restoration, putting lifetime felony disenfranchisement back into place, unless a person applies for and is granted a restoration of rights by the Governor. 

The ACLU challenged felony disenfranchisement in court, but in a narrow 4-3 decision in June 2016, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the ban on voting for thousands of Iowans who have a felony conviction in their background. That decision now must serve as a call for action by the people of Iowa and our representatives. Those of us who have a political voice must act now on behalf of those whose voices have been silenced. 

Legislation and a state Constitutional Amendment is needed so that the thousands of Iowans who have completed their sentences may once again be full members of society and exercise their right to vote. More than 60,000 Iowans—disproportionately African-Americans—remain unable to vote or participate fully in their communities. This same practice led to one in four voting-age African American Iowans being denied the right to vote when measured in 2005, prior to then-Governor Vilsack’s executive order restoring the voting rights of an estimated 150,000 people.  

This is no way run a democracy. It hurts individuals, families, and communities.

Disenfranchisement policies have shown no positive impact on public safety or payment of fines. In fact, the restoration of voting rights supports better public safety, as studies show that those who are seeking to rebuild their lives after release from prison who are given a stake in their communities with the restoration of their voting rights are less likely to reoffend and more likely to experience a successful reentry. As a dissenting opinion in Griffin noted, Iowans who have felony convictions who have fully served their sentences are still subject “to flip-flopping executive orders depending on the political philosophy of the executive [governor] rather than on a more stable legal regime.” 

Iowa remains just one of two states that automatically ban people with a felony conviction from voting, along with Kentucky.