On acknowledging victims as we reform felon voting restrictions

Matt Chapman reports from the first legislative hearing on a constitutional amendment to change Iowa’s felon disenfranchisement system. -promoted by Laura Belin

Despite record low temperatures outside, the room was packed for the January 31 Iowa House Judiciary subcommittee meeting to consider House Study Bill 68, a constitutional amendment proposed by Governor Kim Reynolds.

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Don't make more than 52,000 Iowans wait until 2023 to vote

Governor Kim Reynolds asked Iowa lawmakers today to start the process of amending the state constitution to remove the lifetime ban on voting by those who have committed “infamous crimes,” which under current law are defined as all felony offenses.

A constitutional amendment would be the best long-term fix for an unfair system that disproportionately affects racial minorities and those lacking the funds to navigate the restoration process. So the Iowa House and Senate should certainly heed the governor’s call. But it’s difficult to get a constitutional amendment through both chambers of the legislature, and the soonest an amendment could be enacted would be November 2022.

Reynolds and state lawmakers can and should take immediate steps to allow tens of thousands of Iowans to participate in this year’s local elections, the 2020 caucuses, and the primary and general elections of 2020 and 2022.

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The ominous footnote in judge's ruling on contested Iowa House race

Democratic candidate Kayla Koether filed notice late last week that she is contesting the Iowa House district 55 election. According to the certified result following a recount, Republican State Representative Michael Bergan received 6,924 votes to 6,915 for Koether. However, 29 absentee ballots from Winneshiek County were never tallied, even though the U.S. Postal Service confirmed that they were mailed on or before the legal deadline.

Koether had hoped Polk County District Court Judge Scott Beattie would order the disputed ballots to be opened and counted. But on December 20 he dismissed her lawsuit on jurisdictional grounds, saying the state constitution and Iowa Code give the legislative branch–not the courts–power to rule on contests of elections for state House or Senate seats.

A few thoughts on what should happen next, what will happen instead, and what might have happened if Democrats had pursued a different legal strategy.

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Absentee ballots wrongly excluded in Iowa House district 55 (updated)

“Every vote should be counted,” Democratic challenger Kayla Koether said in a statement after a recount showed her trailing Republican State Representative Michael Bergan by nine votes in Iowa House district 55. Her comments suggest Koether is preparing litigation to force the counting of 33 absentee ballots, which were mailed on time but not counted because the envelopes lacked a certain kind of postmark.

If Koether does not file suit before election results are certified on December 3, one or more of the disenfranchised Winneshiek County voters should take legal action. Election officials did not properly interpret Iowa statute when they excluded those ballots.

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Buena Vista County part of DOJ's voter intimidation stunt

Buena Vista County in northwest Iowa is among 35 localities where U.S. Department of Justice personnel will “monitor compliance with the federal voting rights laws” on November 6, the Justice Department revealed this morning. Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned, “fraud in the voting process will not be tolerated. Fraud also corrupts the integrity of the ballot.”

There is no documented incident of voter fraud in Buena Vista County, just one “accident involving human error” in 2016. So why would the DOJ single out this area for scrutiny?

Like the other jurisdictions the DOJ is targeting, Buena Vista has a large non-white population. Voting rights advocates saw Sessions’ announcement as an effort to intimidate eligible voters.

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