Civil liberties advocates and a host of faith groups announced a new coalition Tuesday that will fight to ensure Iowans convicted of nonviolent felonies are not stripped of their right to vote. The coalition of 17 organizations will advocate for legislation and an eventual amendment to the Iowa Constitution to end a voting rights “crisis” in the state, said Rita Bettis, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, at a press conference. Iowa’s system of disenfranchising felons even after they complete their sentences is among the harshest in the nation, she said. Disenfranchisement hits African-American communities particularly hard, fueled by disparities in the arrests of black Iowans compared with white residents, Bettis said. She cited an ACLU/Human Rights Watch report released earlier in October that found black Iowans are seven times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than white Iowans — the second worst rate of disparity in the U.S. “This system is unjust,” Bettis said. “It leads to the systemic, disproportionate disenfranchisement of black Iowans, leaving them without a voice in our political process.”
Under legislation proposed by the coalition only Iowans convicted of forcible felonies such as murder, sexual abuse, robbery and kidnapping will be stripped of their rights to vote. Additionally, their rights would be restored automatically once they finished serving their sentence.
Iowa’s current system for restoring voting rights requires ex-offenders to complete a 13-question application and win approval from the governor’s office. Gov. Terry Branstad and Secretary of State Paul Pate, both Republicans, have said that the process is not as difficult as some advocacy groups claim.
“Iowa has a good and fair policy on the restoration of rights for convicted felons,” said Branstad spokesperson Ben Hammes. “Automatically restoring the right to vote for convicted felons without requiring the completion of the responsibilities associated with the criminal conviction would severely damage the balance between the right and responsibilities of citizenship.”
Full Article: New coalition aims to end felon voter disenfranchisement.