Iowa simplifies voting rights restoration form for felons

AP News
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Posted: Apr 27, 2016 5:34 PM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The application form that convicted felons in Iowa must complete to seek restoration of their voting rights in Iowa has been made simpler, Gov. Terry Branstad said Wednesday, but voting rights advocates argue the process is still one of the most burdensome in the country.

The streamlined, one-page form reduces the number of questions an applicant must answer from 29 to 13, Branstad said, which makes the process more efficient and convenient.

"When individuals commit felonies, it is important that they demonstrate that they have fully satisfied their sentences and have paid their court-imposed financial obligations and be current on restitution if it's required before receiving their voting rights back," Branstad said in a statement.

Iowa is one of only three states — along with Kentucky and Florida — that disenfranchise convicted felons for life unless their rights are restored. In Iowa and Kentucky the governor may restore rights. Florida requires approval of the governor and two other Cabinet members. But restoration of voting rights has surfaced as an important issue due to it being a presidential election year, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order last week restoring the voting rights for 200,000 convicted felons before the November election.

In Iowa, about 57,000 felons have been disqualified from participating in elections or running for office in Iowa.

The changes to the application form still require people to spend money and time acquiring a criminal history check and other information to send to the governor's office, said Jeremy Rosen, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. It makes the process "only slightly less onerous, although even modest progress is welcome in that regard."

Documents obtained by The Associated Press through an open records request indicate 25 people applied for restoration of voting rights in the first 3½ months of this year. Just 17 applications were completed in all of 2015.

"More people tend to apply in election years than in non-election years," said Colin Smith, Branstad's deputy legal counsel. He added that the applications are given high priority and all eligible felons who apply get their voting rights back.

The Iowa Supreme Court is currently considering a case that voting rights advocates hope will narrow disenfranchisement in the state to only people convicted of bribery of a public official, corruption and crimes that would be an affront to governance.

Last month, justices heard arguments in the case of Kelli Jo Griffin, a woman who lost her voting rights after being convicted of a drug offense. She is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argues the Iowa Constitution's definition of infamous crimes has been construed much too broadly.

State prosecutors argue all felonies are infamous crimes and should continue to result in revocation of voting rights. An opinion is expected before the court's term ends June 30.

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