There’s nothing to brag about in the fact that since Gov. Terry Branstad took over in 2011, Iowa has become one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons to vote. Last year, many civil rights groups were pleading with the newly re-elected governor not to issue an executive order that would return Iowa to a pre-2005 time when convicted felons didn’t have their voting rights restored automatically once they completed their sentences, probation or parole. Before 2005, felons could regain their voting rights in Iowa only by appealing individually for clemency — a lengthy process that required an investigation and a review by the governor. And because the process was so cumbersome that many ex-convicts decided not to follow it through, the net effect was near blanket disenfranchisement. In 2005, however, then Gov. Tom Vilsack issued an executive order that restored voting rights to nearly 100,000 of our fellow Iowans — many of them minority members — to participate in the political process.
As an Editorial Board, we viewed the executive order at the time as a positive development for helping felons rejoin society and become productive citizens. Given that there were only a handful of states where felons’ voting rights weren’t restored automatically — and with all of the other states being former members of the Confederacy — we backed Vilsack’s order as a means of helping Iowa re-establish itself as a leader, rather than straggler, in terms of civil rights.