Last week Eric Holder Jr., the attorney general of the United States, called for the repeal of laws barring convicted felons from exercising their right to vote. He is right to make the call, and a bill in the hopper this session of the Iowa Legislature would do just that. Unfortunately, the Iowa bill is doomed to fail. Eliminating Iowa’s grievous denial of a fundamental constitutional right won’t happen that easily. The denial of felons’ right to vote is prescribed by the Iowa Constitution, not by state law. Only the governor has the authority to restore felons’ voting rights using the power granted by the constitution to restore rights of citizenship.
It would be a violation of the constitutional separation of powers for the Legislature to tell the governor who should or should not have citizenship rights restored. It will take an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to correct this state’s embarrassing policy. It’s time to do it.
Iowa is often singled out for contempt by advocates of restoring felons’ voting rights. They count Iowa as one of only four states that, as the Sentencing Project puts it, “deny the right to vote to all persons with felony convictions, even after they have completed their sentences.”