Democrats on a state senate committee have voted to automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed their prison sentences and any parole or probation. Senator Dick Dearden, a Democrat from Des Moines, said that was the policy under Governors Vilsack and Culver.
“We have to start respecting these folks when they have done everything that they’re supposed to do. They’ve spent their time in probation or parole. They went through the prison system, ” Dearden said. “They did what they were supposed to do.”
When Terry Branstad returned to the governor’s office in 2011, he reinstated a system that requires felons to submit a detailed application asking the governor to restore their voting rights and Branstad has granted 41 of those requests. Iowa is one of just four states that have such a system in place and a spokesman for the governor says Branstad has no plans to change it.
Senator Charles Schneider, a Republican from West Des Moines, agrees with Branstad’s insistence that felons pay their court fees and restitution before they are allowed to vote.
“Especially when we’re talking about felonies that relate to financial crimes,” Schneider said. “I just don’t think someone like a Bernie Madoff or a Russ Wassendorf should be able to vote before they’ve restituted any victims that they’ve defrauded.”
Senator Dearden suggested if that’s the standard, businessman Donald Trump should be barred from voting.
“You know he couldn’t even make money running a casino and he filed bankruptcy,” Dearden said, “and he still thinks he could be president.”
Trump has filed for corporate bankruptcy four times and Trump argues it’s a legal tool for cutting debt by restructuring his companies.
Dearden said it’s not easy for the common felon to pay restitution once they’ve been released from prison because they’re usually stuck in a minimum wage job. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder earlier this week blasted policies which make it difficult for felons to vote, saying they disproportionately bar minorities from voting.
The fate of the effort to automatically restore Iowa felons’ voting rights is uncertain according to a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal. Governor Branstad, a Republican, is adamantly opposed to it and would likely veto the proposal if it reached his desk.