VOTING RIGHTS: Branstad Relaxes Felon Rules

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Felons in Iowa trying to regain their voting rights will have an easier time.
On Friday the Branstad administration announced they would be relaxing the rules enacted last year that made Iowa one of the hardest states in the nation for felons to regain their voting rights.

In 2011, Governor Branstad issued an executive order eliminating automatic renewal of voting rights for felons who had completed the terms of their sentence. Instead, they were required to apply to the Governor’s office to have the rights restored.

Civil rights groups complained the new process was unfair to Iowans who had paid their debt to society.

The changes announced Friday include a simplified application that is easier to understand.  Also, applicants will no longer have to have their restitution paid off entirely; they just need to be current on payments. They also won’t have to submit credit histories, which the governor’s office had required as a way to check for outstanding court debts.

Even with the changes Iowa is still 1 of only 4 states where felons who complete prison and parole terms have to apply to restore their rights.

The ACLU of Iowa says the Governor’s actions are a step in the right direction. They released a statement Friday saying, “While we continue to advocate for automatic restoration of voting rights after a person completes their term of imprisonment, this is clear and important progress. Restoring the right to vote to people who are current on their restitution payments, rather than requiring those costs to be paid in full, makes Iowa a better, fairer state.  That change alone will allow thousands of Iowans who have served their sentences to restore their right to vote.”

The NAACP also called the action a good first step, but added they prefer automatic reinstatement of benefits for those who’ve paid their debt for their crimes.