Government

Iowa assembling verified felon voting database

Goal is 'complete, clean list by Election Day,' Secretary of State Paul Pate says

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate talks with a government class in October 2018 at Kennedy High School before the studen
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate talks with a government class in October 2018 at Kennedy High School before the students counted straw poll ballots in Cedar Rapids. Pate’s office is purging the names of felons from the voter registration base and re-entering the names of felons whose voting right has been restored by the governor. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate’s office has begun the process of rebuilding the state felon database into a verified voter registration system designed to better identify whose voting rights have been restored by the 2020 presidential election.

State officials last weekend took down the I-VOTERS system in order to remove the active felon data and then began adding back the information as election officials verify tens of thousands of convictions and restorations, according to Molly Widen, legal counsel in the Secretary of State’s Office.

Widen said the office decided to “clean out” the underlying data so there would only be verified records in the felon database going forward “so we could guarantee that if a record is in there, it had been verified,” Widen said Wednesday.

Overall, she said, the process involved more than 100,000 unique records for somewhere between 50,000 and 70,000 Iowans because some people have multiple felony convictions.

“The goal is to have a complete, clean list by Election Day in November,” Pate said. “We want to make sure no one is on the list that shouldn’t be there.”

Iowa is the only state that still bans all people with felony convictions from voting unless they appeal directly to the governor to have their voting right restored.

When an Iowa applicant signs a voter registration form, the person must attest under penalty of perjury that he or she has not been convicted of a felony or has had the voting right restored, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

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Voters who are processed will be checked against the database of verified felony convictions. If a conviction is added to the database and it is matched with an active voter registration, that registration will be canceled. Anyone whose name is struck can appeal the cancellation.

“By cleaning that information due to the inaccuracies in the data the courts provided, it means that anybody who may wrongfully be on that list won’t have an obstacle to vote,” Widen said.

“We plan to quickly re-upload every record where somebody has received a restoration so that way we can quickly search through people with restorations and that doesn’t cause a hit with the voter registration system,” she added.

The restorations, she said, will include “a whole big batch” coming from Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office.

On Tuesday, Reynolds told reporters that all pending applications from Iowans with felony records who were seeking restoration of their voting rights will be reviewed before the Feb. 3 Iowa caucuses.

“Right now, we have 347 that are being processed,” including 80 that arrived in the last 30 days, the governor said,

“We’re expecting a large influx of restorations,” Widen said Wednesday, “and we’ll be able to add that back into the system so then our office and county auditors can quickly look to see if somebody’s been restored.”

The governor also said she plans to again promote the issue of improving Iowa’s process for restoring felon voting rights during the upcoming 2020 legislative session that convenes next week. She fell short last year of winning legislative support for a constitutional amendment to allow felons who have completed their sentences to vote.

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Pate, who also serves as Iowa’s commissioner of elections, has said his office is working with the Iowa Judicial Branch to ensure information provided by the courts on felony convictions is accurate. It’s a six-step verification process that includes three new steps, including judicial disposition orders.

From there, county auditors will determine if somebody matching that information is a registered voter and, if so, the registration would be canceled as required by Iowa law. A letter would be sent giving the voter an opportunity to respond if the individual feels the registration was wrongfully canceled.

Pate also submitted a new administrative rule to the Legislative Services Agency for review that clarifies the roles of the Iowa Judicial Branch, the Secretary of State’s Office and county auditors for operating the felon database. Those rules are slated to come before the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee on Friday morning; a public hearing on the proposal will be held at 2 p.m. that day at the Statehouse.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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