September 18, 2014

NAACP meets with governor to air concerns about voting

A delegation of NAACP officials met with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad today to voice concerns about his decision to undo a policy that automatically restored voting rights to felons who’d been released from prison. 

“Prison is supposed to be about rehabilitating people,” says Dedric Doolin, president of the Cedar Rapids branch of the NAACP, “and how do you rehabilitate somebody if you continue to have them marked as a prisoner for the rest of their life?”

Branstad’s executive order requires felons to complete a lengthy application process if they want their voting rights restored. Jotaka Eaddy of Washington, D.C. — a special assistant to the national president of the NAACP — likens Branstad’s process to “Jim Crow” laws in the south that were created to keep former slaves from voting.

“We really hope that Iowa can move forward,” Eaddy says. “We look forward at working with this governor to really look at this and see how we might be able to rectify this and really begin to giving the right to vote and the franchise to those citizens who have paid their debt to society.”

A felon who applies to have their voting rights restores must submit a current credit report, pay $15 to get their own criminal history report and provide the address of the judge who sentenced them to prison. 

“The litany of things that (Branstad) has on his list covers so many areas that it’s near impossible for the average citizen, whether they’re in prison or not, to respond to the issues that they’re asking for in the application,” says Arnold Woods, Jr. of Des Moines, president of the Iowa/Nebraska chapter of the NAACP.

But Woods says Branstad indicated one change in the process — that a felon need only be current in paying restitution rather than requiring them to pay it all before they can apply to get their voting rights back. This morning during the governor’s weekly news conference, before his meeting with the NAACP delegation, Branstad told reporters he just restored the practice that was in place when he was governor before.

“But we also think it’s fair to society that when somebody commits a crime like that, that they have to earn their rights back by having completed their sentence and the requirements of the sentence,” Branstad said.

About 13,000 Iowans who would have been eligible to vote four years ago were barred from voting in this year’s election. Iowa is one of only four states that do not automatically restore voting rights to felons who’ve done their time. Vermont and Maine even allow some inmates to vote while they’re in prison.