Iowa and national NAACP leaders met with Governor Terry Branstad in his office Monday to push him to relax what they call one of the toughest rules in the country in order to restore voting rights to felons. “Twelve out of 8,000 is not very good,” said Arnold Woods, president of the Iowa/Nebraska NAACP chapters. That figure represents far less than 1% of felons who got their voting rights restored of the nearly 8,000 whom would be eligible this year. Woods said, “The idea is make is to make life palatable for those out of the system to get them back re-energized into the community and make them productive citizens.”
But Woods believes that can’t happen largely because of Branstad’s rules. Branstad requires felons to fill out an application before he will even consider restoring their voting rights. It is comprised of 31 questions, where felons have provide information like their credit history and whether they are paying any required alimony, child support or victim restitution.
The national NAACP organization wants Iowa to follow the lead of 2 other states, Vermont and Maine, which allow felons to vote while they remain in prison. The state chapter is content with just forcing felons to finish their prison sentence. The chapter doesn’t believe felons should have to petition for the return of their voting rights with a pile of paperwork. Jotaka Eaddy, NAACP National Senior Director of Voting Rights, said, “When someone pays their time and they’re out of prison, it really should be no question of them having automatic restoration of their voting rights.”
The governor told the group he is willing to look at being fair to felons by streamlining the process, although he didn’t pledge any specifics. Branstad does believe he had to think of others, too. He said, ‘We also think it’s fair to society that when somebody commits a crime like that, that they have to earn their rights by having completed the sentence and the requirements of the sentence.”
But Dedric Doolin, the Cedar Rapids NAACP chapter president, countered, “Prison is supposed to be about rehabilitating people. And how do you rehabilitate somebody if you continue to have them marked as a prisoner for the rest of their life?”
It’s the fight for the right to vote and how much is too much for felons to do to get those rights back.