The Iowa Senate State Government Committee split along party lines Wednesday in approving a bill to make it easier for ex-convicts to regain their right to vote Senate File 127 requires that upon discharge from certain criminal sentences, citizenship rights related to voting and holding public office must be restored. The measure was approved on a 9-6 vote with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans against. The bill now goes to the Senate floor, where it is likely to win approval. However, Republicans who control the Iowa House are unlikely to consider the measure. Under a policy enacted in 2005 by then-Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, former offenders automatically regained their voting rights once they were discharged from prison or parole. But when Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, returned to office in 2011 he signed an executive order that has made it much more difficult for ex-felons to vote.
Branstad’s policy requires that all court-ordered restitution be paid to victims in full before they apply for a restoration of voting rights.The governor used his power of executive clemency to restore the right to vote and hold public office for 21 offenders who applied in 2013, which was a tiny fraction of the thousands of ex-offenders who have been freed from Iowa’s prisons in recent years.
Sen. Charles Schneider, R-West Des Moines, opposed the bill. He said it restitution is part of a criminal sentence and he is especially concerned some people could have their voting rights restored when they haven’t repaid money, especially in cases of financial crimes.