Gov. Kim Reynolds’ proposal to amend the Iowa Constitution to automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons will face opposition from lawmakers who insist criminals must first repay all court-ordered restitution, legal and civil rights advocacy groups said. The proposal as currently written would restore voter rights to felons after they complete their sentence. More than 50,000 people would be affected. But some lawmakers have said felons should additionally be required to complete repayment of their court-ordered restitution before being allowed to cast ballots. No groups have registered in opposition to her plan. A legislative subcommittee will meet to discuss the issue for the first time Thursday at noon.
“As I hear that idea, it says: Rich felons could vote, poor felons could not,” said Gary Dickey, a Des Moines attorney who in 2016 represented Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald in support of Kelli Jo Griffin, a mother who — with the help of the ACLU — unsuccessfully challenged the state’s policy before the Iowa Supreme Court.
Some felons make incremental restitution payments for the rest of their lives, Dickey noted. “The distinction is not your crime, it’s your ability to pay,” Dickey said. “It feels like a poll tax.”
Iowa and Kentucky are the only states that permanently ban felons from voting unless the governor or president individually restores their rights.