A week ago today, four Iowa Supreme Court justices upheld the lifetime ban on voting for Iowans convicted of all felonies, which are defined as "infamous crimes" under a 1994 state law. Chief Justice Mark Cady’s opinion in Griffin v. Pate and three dissents are available here; Bleeding Heartland posted key excerpts here.
A decision in Kelli Jo Griffin’s favor could have made tens of thousands of Iowans newly eligible to vote in this year’s presidential election. Instead, Iowa will likely retain its place as one of the most restrictive states on felon voting for years.
In theory, those who have completed sentences can apply to have Governor Terry Branstad restore their voting rights. Griffin plans to do so, and I expect Branstad to make a big show of approving her application. In practice, though, that option will be available only to a small minority of those affected by the governor’s January 2011 executive order. During the first five years the new policy was in effect, less than two-tenths of 1 percent of disenfranchised felons managed to regain the right to vote, an average of fewer than 20 people per year.
I am awaiting information from the governor’s office on restoration numbers since the latest "streamlining" of the official form in April, but I don’t expect the number of applicants ever to become more than a trickle. The financial and other barriers will remain too great.
Even if Branstad started receiving substantially more applications and approved them at a rate of 20 per week—unlikely since this work already occupies "meaningful amounts of time every day" for the governor’s staff—only about 1,000 people annually would be able to regain their voting rights. That’s less than 2 percent of the estimated 57,000 Iowans who have been disenfranchised since January 2011. Thousands more join their ranks every year. So much for an "efficient and convenient" restoration process.
Three paths are available to bring Iowa in line with how most states approach voting rights for people with felony convictions.Continue Reading...