Who Can Vote?

Iowa’s voting laws made news last week when the Des Moines Register reminded us of who cannot vote here. Iowa has become one of the most difficult places to vote for felons.

It’s not clear to me why everyone who is 18 years old cannot vote, criminal record, even presence in jail notwithstanding. Is this a democracy or not?

Now the Iowa Justice Reform Coalition is asking for your help. They are soliciting letters to the editor on the subject of felon disenfranchisement. Since Iowa’s last step forward on this front happened on July 4,2005, now is a good time for those letters:

Iowa’s Horrible Turnaround on Ex-felon Voting Rights

We became complacent. During the years prior to Terry Branstad’s move back into the Iowa Governor’s Office, we should have been making permanent changes to Iowa’s law on the restoration of ex-felon voting rights. We didn’t.

When Governor Tom Vilsack issued Executive Order No. 42 on July 4, 2005, ex-offenders in Iowa were given the right to vote and hold office, providing they had completed their court-imposed sentences. Governor Chet Culver continued the process. Then, overnight, Governor Terry Edward Branstad turned the process over completely.

A recent Associated Press article reports that Governor “Branstad has made Iowa one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons to vote, with an executive order he issued last year already having disenfranchised thousands of people.” http://www.desmoinesregister.com/viewart/20120624/NEWS/306240062/Few-Iowa-felons-pursue-voting-rights

A University of Pennsylvania white paper matches “discharge records to the Iowa voter file,” and found that “ex-felon turnout substantially increased following Executive Order 42.” One figure estimates this increase to be as much as “four to eight percentage points.” http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~marcmere/workingpapers/IowaFelons.pdf

So if ex-offenders are turning out to vote in substantial numbers, why is Governor Branstad making it more difficult for them to vote? Didn’t he and a tsunami of Republicans take office with the help of those votes from ex-offenders? There is no scientific connection, but it makes you wonder, doesn’t it.
The 7th anniversary of Governor Vilsack’s executive order is this upcoming Independence Day, July 4 (Wednesday). We’re asking you to write a letter-to-the editor of your local newspaper and describe the problems you see with disenfranchisement of ex-felons.

It always helps to see where a pattern exists. Recent calls to stop student voting in some states, to end same-day voter registration in some states, to demand photo ID cards in some states, and to repeal parts of the federal Voting Rights Act are all part of this pattern of disenfranchisement. Eternal vigilance is the price of voting rights. If you have a story to tell about disenfranchisement, find a way to tell it now.

If you need to address this matter for a particular disenfranchised voter, you can start with this ACLU flier on the nuts and bolts and paperwork required.

Cross posted at BleedingHeartland.com where you can comment.

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