Gov. Terry Branstad restored voting rights to more convicted felons in 2013 than in the prior two years combined, but they represent a tiny fraction of the thousands of former offenders who can’t vote because of a 2011 policy change the governor ordered, according to a review by The Associated Press. Branstad used his power of executive clemency to restore the right to vote and hold public office to 21 offenders who applied in 2013, compared to 17 in 2012 and two in 2011, according to data released by the governor’s officer under the public records law. Those receiving clemency included people convicted of theft, burglary, drugs, firearms and harassment charges, records show. The increase comes after the governor’s office made the application process easier in December 2012 in response to criticism from voting rights groups, who argued it was too onerous and perhaps the toughest in the nation. Acknowledging such criticism, Branstad removed requirements that applicants submit a credit history check and that all court-ordered restitution be paid to victims in full before they apply.
But the number of applicants still remains tiny compared to nearly 25,000 offenders who finished their sentences for felonies or aggravated misdemeanors between January 2011 and this month, according to Iowa Department of Corrections data. Under a 2005 policy enacted by then-Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack, those former offenders would have automatically regained their voting rights once they were discharged from prison or parole.
“While the governor made important improvements last year, the policy still has a clear negative impact,” said Rita Bettis, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.
Full Article: Iowa governor restores more felons voting rights – SFGate.