Iowa Makes It Tougher For Felons to Regain Voting Rights

An executive order from Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad has made the state one of the most difficult for felons to regain their right to vote.
by | June 29, 2012

An executive order has made Iowa one of the most difficult for former felons who want to regain their right to vote, according to the Associated Press.

On his first day in office in 2010, Gov. Terry Branstad signed the executive order reversing a policy put into place by former Gov. Tom Vilsack that gave felons their voting rights immediately after release from state supervision. Under the new policy, felons must apply to the Governor’s office to regain their voting rights.

The application has 31 questions and applicants must also provide a copy of their credit report and the convicting judge's address. More than 8,000 inmates have been released since the executive order was signed, but fewer than 12 have successfully completed the process.

Henry Straight, a former felon who wanted run for city council, hired a lawyer to help him complete the application, but was unsucessful. The Governor’s office instead notified him that he had only given a summary of his credit report, not the full report.

“They make the process just about impossible,” said Straight. “I hired a lawyer to navigate it for me and I still got rejected. Isn't that amazing?”

Branstad criticized former Gov. Vilsack’s policy as being politically motivated. Applying for citizenship rights is, “an important and necessary aspect of an offender’s process of reintegration,” said Branstad.

However, one of the problems, according to Rita Bettis, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, who posted a guide on Sunday to help felons through the process, is that felons struggling to re-enter society are already less likely to be interested in voting. She said the process should be easier, not harder. Iowa's application process goes against a national trend of making it easier for felons to vote. Iowa is one of just four states who require an application to regain the right.

Many convicted felons have simply given up, such as Straight’s cousin Richard Straight. He said that while he would like to vote in the November election, "I've only got a few years left of living. I might as well kick back and relax and live my life instead of fighting the system like that.”


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