A year ago the Iowa Supreme Court issued a splintered decision on Iowans’ constitutional voting rights that left an important question for a future case. Such a case appears headed to the court, and it could restore this fundamental right to thousands of Iowans. Iowa is one of just three states — including Kentucky and Florida — that permanently disenfranchise otherwise eligible voters with a record of a felony conviction. Convicted felons in Iowa must apply to the governor for restoration of voting rights after completing their sentences. Few go to the trouble, however, which is understandable given the intimidating bureaucratic process. As a result, these Iowans are forever denied a right that is fundamental in a free society even after they have paid their debt to that society. That is wrong, but a fix will not be easy.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced late last month two changes to the restoration of rights process, representing the latest steps in pursuit of his priority to ensure all Virginians have the opportunity to exercise their voting and civil rights. Under the new reform, outstanding court costs and fees will no longer prohibit an individual from having his or her rights restored. “We have forced these men and women to battle a complicated and bewildering tangle of red tape to reach the voting booth, and too often we still turn them away,” McAuliffe said. “These men and women will still be required to pay their costs and fees, but their court debts will no longer serve as a financial barrier to voting, just as poll taxes did for so many years in Virginia.”
What is the logic behind state laws that deny the vote to people who have been convicted of a felony, even after they are released from prison? The short and easy answer is: there isn’t any. For a longer, nonsensical answer, ask Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, who on May 22 thwarted strong majorities in both houses of the state legislature to veto a bill that would have restored voting rights to about 40,000 Maryland residents currently on probation or parole.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed six bills Friday, including legislation that would have allowed thousands of felons to vote and a measure to tax online travel services at the same rate as hotels. … The voting legislation, which came in the form of companion bills from the Senate and House, would have applied to an estimated 40,000 people on probation or parole. The bill was inspired, in part, by the national conversation about racial profiling, sentencing guidelines and police conduct after violent deaths last year in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have revived legislation that would give the right to vote back to some nonviolent criminal offenders. The Civil Rights Voting Restoration Act would restore voting rights in federal elections to people convicted of nonviolent crimes who are no longer in prison. Under the law, offenders on probation will receive the right to vote after one year. The law also sets up procedures under which states and the federal prison system are required to notify offenders that they will be allowed to vote. States can lose federal grants for their prison systems if they do not comply with the law.
A Kentucky House committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would give felons the right to vote. The House has passed a similar bill every year since 2007, but the bills have died or been significantly changed in the Senate. Janet Tucker, of the advocacy group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, said that keeping felons from voting disproportionately affects minority communities. “Those communities really aren’t getting their full vote in our democracy still, so it’s an important issue for our democracy as well as individuals and their rights as citizens,” Tucker said. Felons convicted of murder and sex offenses are excluded in the House bill.
Commit any felony in Florida and you lose your right to vote for life — unless the governor and the clemency board agree to give that right back to you. The result: more than 1.6 million Floridians — about 9 percent — cannot vote, hold office or serve on a jury, according to The Sentencing Project, a prison-reform group. In most states, the percentage is less than 2. Only two other states have that tough a policy. Getting back those rights has become far tougher in the past four years. Under Gov. Rick Scott, 1,534 nonviolent felons had their rights restored. More than 11,000 others applied but are still waiting for an answer. Under former Gov. Charlie Crist, the clemency board automatically restored the rights of nonviolent offenders who served their time — and a total of 155,315 got them back during his four-year term.