The facts about felons and voting in Iowa

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Paul Pate, guest columnist

Despite what you might have read or heard recently, felons are not permanently barred from voting in Iowa. There are a lot of misconceptions regarding this issue. I hope to clear up some of those.

After completing their sentence, felons can petition the Governor’s Office to have their voting privileges restored by filling out a simple 13-question form. It is not an arduous process. Out of those that correctly filled out the application, 100 percent had their privileges restored.

It is a shame most felons do not even try. I encourage those groups saying more felons should be allowed vote to step up and help felons go through the restoration process.

The media reports criticizing Iowa’s process as “too burdensome” compared to other states are also inaccurate. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, eight states like Iowa require action by a governor or court to approve restoration. Many other states require a waiting period and verification process before voting privileges are restored.

I applaud the Iowa Supreme Court for their decision to uphold the Iowa Constitution regarding felons voting. The Constitution is clear: People convicted of an “infamous crime” lose their voting privileges. Infamous crimes have consistently equated to all felonies and the Supreme Court correctly ruled that nothing has changed that definition during the ensuing 159 years. If the court ruled differently, felons behind bars in Iowa would be able to vote.

I am not opposed to felons having their voting privileges restored. However, I believe they should show some effort toward becoming productive members of society before that happens.

Another misconception is that all of a felon’s fees and restitution must be paid before voting privileges can be restored. That is true in many states, but not in Iowa. If felons are up-to-date on their payment plan, their privileges will almost assuredly be restored. Again, 100 percent of those who have tried have succeeded.

Democracy is worth fighting for. It is worth requiring those who have committed infamous crimes to show they are on the path to rehabilitation.

I will continue to encourage all eligible Iowans to participate in the electoral process, and I encourage all felons that care about the process to take the simple steps of getting their privileges restored. If they do that, my office will gladly help them register to vote and encourage them to participate in Iowa’s elections.

• Paul Pate is Iowa’s Secretary of State. Comments:

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