| What's on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread.
Ned Chiodo's challenge to Tony Bisignano's eligibility to run for Iowa Senate district 17 has brought new attention to some legal confusion over which crimes can cause Iowans to lose their voting rights. The Iowa Constitution does not specify which "infamous crimes" should disqualify citizens from voting or holding public office. Chiodo's attorney cites case law from the Iowa Supreme Court suggesting that aggravated misdemeanors as well as felonies can be considered "infamous crimes." Yet a law passed in 1994 defined "infamous crimes" as state or federal felonies.
State Representative Mary Wolfe, an Iowa House Democrat who is also a criminal defense attorney, just reposted a piece she wrote in 2012, explaining why aggravated misdemeanor convictions do not disqualify voters. (I recommend clicking through to read her whole analysis.) Wolfe notes with dismay the "complete and total disconnect between Iowa's Governor and Secretary of State on such a straightforward, yes or no issue." Secretary of State Matt Schultz's website correctly indicates that convicted felons whose rights have not been restored may not register to vote. However, Governor Terry Branstad's website states that "infamous crimes" may include aggravated misdemeanors and any crime that "may be punishable" by more than one year in prison. That could include a long list of offenses, including the second Operating While Intoxicated charge to which Bisignano pled guilty earlier this year.
At this writing, Branstad's website still contains that misinformation about some aggravated misdemeanors leading to the loss of voting rights, even though Branstad himself signed the 1994 law defining "infamous crimes" as felonies. Speaking to reporters a few weeks ago in defense of his policy permanently disenfranchising all but a handful of ex-felons, the governor equated "infamous crimes" with felonies.
Because Chiodo plans to take his case to court, a Polk County District judge (and perhaps eventually the full Iowa Supreme Court) will settle any questions over whether Iowa's 1994 law supersedes previous court rulings on this issue.