Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad is shooting back at the U.S. Attorney General who has criticized Branstad for the way he’s handling felon voting rights.

“I’m disappointed that the attorney general of the United States who also was involved in that ‘Fast and Furious’ project to give guns to drug smugglers in Mexico would criticize Iowa without even knowing the Iowa Constitution,” Branstad said today at his weekly news conference. “I think the Iowa Constitution makes it very clear if you commit an ‘infamous crime’ which is considered a felony you lose your rights. That includes your right to vote.”

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last week called on 11 states — including Iowa — to allow felons to vote after they’ve done their prison time, arguing a disproportionate number of minorities are prevented from voting.  Former Iowa Governors Vilsack and Culver had executive orders in place that automatically restored a felon’s voting rights after they had completed their sentence, but Branstad requires each felon to submit an application to him and prove they’re current in paying any court fees or fines as well as current in paying restitution to victims before he’ll restore their voting rights.  Since 2011, Branstad has restored voting rights to 41 felons.

“I think that’s a very fair and balanced way,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “At least somebody that commits an infamous crime such as a felony ought to pay the court costs and the fine associated with that crime before they expect to get their rights restored.”

Holder cited Iowa during a speech at a  criminal justice symposium last week, arguing 8,000 people in Iowa had completed their prison sentences during Branstad’s tenure and the majority are “permanently disenfranchised” even though they are no longer under state supervision. A bill pending in an Iowa Senate committee would automatically restore voting rights to felons once they’ve served their sentences. Branstad says the bill is unconstitutional, as that is a decision reserved for the governor, not legislators.

Audio of the governor’s weekly news conference can be found here.