The governor’s executive order restoring felons’ voting rights will remain on hold. Governor Tom Vilsack signed an order on July 4, bypassing the old system that required offenders who’d served their prison and probation time to apply to get their voting rights restored, and then wait for the parole board and governor to review every application. The Muscatine County attorney filed a legal challenge to the order in mid-July. On Wednesday assistant county attorney Alan Ostergren argued the judge should not dismiss the lawsuit. Ostergren says the state should stick with the old system, which ensured undeserving felons did not get the right to vote. Attorney General’s spokesman Bob Brammer says the state asked the judge to throw the challenge out. “Our overall position is that the governor did and does have authority to do what he did,” Brammer says. Brammer says the Wednesday decision was based on procedural grounds. Governor Tom Vilsack said he wasn’t surprised by the judge’s decision. “It’s very difficult to win a motion to dismiss,” Vilsack, a lawyer, says. The Democratic governor says despite the criticism he’s received and the court challenge, he’d sign the order again. “I still feel it’s a good idea to give folks the ability to reconnect with society once they’ve paid their dues to society by spending time in prison and fulfilling whatever responsibilities they have of probation and parole,” Vilsack says. The Attorney General’s office argued that the case is not within the scope of a single county aattorney’s jurisdiction, according to Brammer. The AG’s office argued the county attorney didn’t have authority to get a court order to stop the governor from issuing his executive order, which was part of the legal action taken in mid-July. “That’s because the executive order had already been issued when this case came up before the District Court,” Brammer says. He says the Attorney General’s office is considering what to do next. But Assistant Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren says there are legal issues that deserve to be heard in court. He says it goes back to English common law and is in the laws of Iowa and other states, that courts have the power to force other tribunals, state officials, or officers of corporations to comply wtih certain legal obligations. In the governor’s case, Ostergren says, law requires him to go by state law that says individual felons must go through the review process before regaining the right to register to vote. “Our position is that the governor’s power to grant executive clemency under the constitution is subject to regulation that the legislature enacts,” he says. Muscatine County Judge Patrick Madden agreed, and scheduled a trial on the challenge for August 31.
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