Jim Nussle, a Republican candidate for governor, says he’d sign a bill into law requiring felons to repay their debts to society before they may regain the right to vote. Current Governor Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, signed an executive order July 4th that restores voting right to felons who’ve completed their sentences and their parole. But that order does not require the felons to have paid their court fines or restitution to victims. Nussle says Vilsack made the move to look good nationally, since Iowa is one of only five states that had denied voting rights to felons who’ve done their time. “What I hear from Iowans is that they are very frustrated with what seems to be an increasingly political motivation on the part of the governor,” Nussle says. “It’s all politics, all the time.” Nussle, a congressman representing northeast Iowa, says Vilsack didn’t consider there are other reasons felons who’ve done their time shouldn’t be allowed to vote. “The strange thing about this is that you may in fact have a felon who is given the right to vote who is allowed to go vote at a school and is a sexual predator and supposed to stay away from the very polling place — a school — that now they have the right to go and vote in” Nussle says. “No one has thought through this, other than the fact that the governor wants votes.” Vilsack’s move means thousands of ex-felons may be eligible to register to vote for the next election. It also means as many as one-in-four black Iowans who were not eligible to vote because of a criminal record can legally vote. Nussle says he doesn’t buy the idea Vilsack did this to help minorities. “It has nothing to do with minorities or your ethnicity,” Nussle says. “It has to do with getting votes and that’s a very cynical approach to public policy.” Last week, House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Republican from Sioux City, said he’d try to pass a bill in the Legislature that would overturn Vilsack’s executive order. It’s unlikely to become law during Vilsack’s term that expires in early January 2007 because if the bill passed the legislature, he would veto it.
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