It’s one thing when lawmakers decide not to vote on an issue. It is quite another when lawmakers refuse to let Iowans vote.
That is what happened last week when Iowa Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, removed a proposed constitutional amendment from the Judiciary Committee’s calendar. The proposed amendment would have — if also passed by the state’s next General Assembly — allowed Iowans to vote on whether those convicted of felonies who have completed their sentences should automatically have voting rights restored. It’s a change championed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, and a proposed amendment nearly unanimously approved by members of the Iowa House.
But 11 Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, following private discussions, scuttled the plan for at least another year. Iowa will continue to stand with Kentucky as the only two states that permanently bar felons from the ballot box.
But, actually, it’s worse than that.
The state will continue to treat some voters differently, depending on where crimes took place and whether the offense made its way into Iowa’s felon database.
Those convicted in Iowa automatically are placed on this no-vote list. Those with convictions in other states aren’t, because the Iowa database isn’t linked to other court systems.
In other instances, voters misidentified as felons were placed in the database and disenfranchised without any notice from the state that their voting rights had been restricted. People charged, but not convicted, and those with deferred judgments have been erroneously placed in the database.
Because of these ongoing systemic issues and, as Gov. Reynolds puts it, Iowans’ belief in “second chances,” a solid majority of recent Iowa Poll respondents favored restoration of voting rights for felons.
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Still, Zaun indicated Republicans on his committee were conflicted to a point of inaction. Perhaps Iowans denied this first step in the amendment process just had a small dose of what it feels like to have your voting voice silenced. Because committee members weren’t being asked to immediately change the law, but to give voters an opportunity to do so.
Politically savvy Iowans contend there are other ways a proposed amendment stalled by a funnel deadline could be revived in the Legislature. If so, we hope it happens. Or, at the very least, that lawmakers return next year with renewed willingness to give Iowans a direct say.
In the interim, we once again urge Gov. Reynolds to pick up her pen and sign an executive order.
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