Thousands of Iowans convicted of crimes are ineligible to vote Tuesday under a policy imposed by Gov. Terry Branstad, while others remain uncertain on whether they can cast ballots because of confusing state laws and guidance, records show. Branstad, a Republican, signed an order last year reversing a 2005 policy by then-Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, in which felons automatically regained their voting rights once they were discharged from state supervision. The change made Iowa one of four states in which felons must apply to have voting rights restored — a lengthy bureaucratic process.
Applicants must submit documents showing they’ve fully paid their fines and restitution, answer 31 detailed questions and request a $15 criminal history check and their credit report, a requirement that some call unprecedented.
Critics say many have been deterred from applying by the paperwork and because they don’t want to submit their credit history to the Governor’s Office, which uses the report to confirm that court debts are satisfied. The Associated Press reported on the policy in June, and civil rights groups and Democrats called for reforms to make it easier.
But Branstad hasn’t budged, arguing that crime victims should receive restitution before voting rights are restored.
Branstad has restored citizenship rights to fewer than 20 offenders since January 2011 out of roughly 13,000 who completed prison and parole sentences in that time frame, according to Department of Corrections data.
Branstad spokesman Tim Albrecht said the Governor’s Office expedited action on applications, restoring voting rights last week for five individuals “to ensure that anyone who was pending restoration was able to vote this year.”
But only a fraction of those eligible applied, and many remain unclear about whether they ever lost their rights or got them back.