Last week, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office released a new and improved application for restoration of voting rights. Iowa is one of only two states that require felons to apply to the governor to grant their voting rights, even after they have completed their sentences.
The updated paperwork comes as Reynolds and criminal justice advocates are pushing for a constitutional amendment to permanently enfranchise felons after they’re released from prison. The new application is a stopgap measure, but it is a vast improvement nonetheless.
The updated version is just a single page, instead of three pages, and only asks about an applicant’s most recent felony conviction. The old application — ironically titled the “streamlined application” — called for detailed information about all prior felonies, with instructions to attach additional pages if that wouldn’t fit.
The previous application was absurdly invasive, asking applicants to effectively sign over all their privacy rights. The release attached to the application required the applicant to “authorize any and all persons, firms or corporations, to release any and all information or documents they may now have or hereinafter receive concerning me” to the governor.
The newly released document only requires applicants to release records pertaining to themselves on file with any state agency or the judicial branch.
And while the outgoing application demanded applications file proof they paid their court costs, fines and restitution, the new one simply asks if the payments have been made, or if the applicant has entered into a payment plan with the courts.
This is a good faith effort by the governor to make the ballot box more accessible to people who have paid for their crimes. Participating in our republic, even for convicted criminals, should not require Ph.D.-level paperwork skills.
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Nevertheless, a simpler application is not a sustainable solution. Advocates have repeatedly explained why it’s imperative for Iowans released from prison to automatically receive their voting rights.
One hope is that including reformed criminals in the democratic process will better enable them to acclimate to society and avoid reoffending. On a more fundamental level, it is unconscionable to tax people and force them to obey laws when they don’t have any representation. You might recall early Americans fought a war over that very issue.
The workable solution is for the Legislature to approve the constitutional amendment this assembly and next, sending it to voters for a statewide referendum. A Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll last month showed 64 percent of Iowans favor restoring felons’ voting rights, while just 29 percent oppose.
The next best alternative is for Reynolds to restore an executive order from former Gov. Tom Vilsack, which automatically granted voting rights without applying.
No matter how easy the application process is, it will remain an unnecessary burden. Almost every other state automatically restores voting rights, and none have suffered negative consequences. It’s past time for Iowa to join the rest of the country.
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