One day, when I worked at ASAC, I passed a young mother who had been convicted of a drug related felony, but was now working to overcome addiction. She was reading an official-looking letter while silent tears ran down her cheeks. When I asked if I could help, she said, “I can vote again.” Gov. Tom Vilsack, realizing that people deserve second chances, had used an executive order to restore the vote to people who had served their sentences. When people break the law, they need to make amends, but lifelong punishment is no way to return anyone to a productive, community-centered life. Unfortunately, since lifelong disenfranchisement is in our constitution, another governor was able to undo Governor Vilsack’s action.
Our constitution doesn’t say “We the people who always follow all the rules …,” but “We the people.” Denying anyone their civic voice creates difficulties for us all. We do better when people who have served their incarceration re-enter our communities as productive citizens. Voting is associated with successful re-entry. There is less repeat crime, more community involvement. We all benefit.
All other states have created a pathway to reinstatement of civic rights. Iowa needs to do the same. Some say that pathway should be blocked until pecuniary obligations are fully paid, thereby creating a lifetime block to low income people. Eligibility to vote cannot rest on a person’s income level.
I support HJR 14, the proposed amendment that would create the pathway. Its passage is long overdue.