“This is a situation where people have already served their time, justice has been exacted and people are continuing to suffer the collateral damage,” says Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa/Nebraska NAACP.
Andrews is part of the new “Coalition for Fair Restoration of Voting Rights.” Iowa is one of only three states that permanently ban people with felony convictions from voting. The group’s long-term goal is to amend the state’s constitution, so felons automatically get their voting rights back once they’ve been paroled, but campaigning for and passing a constitutional amendment takes years.
Rita Bettis of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa says the coalition’s short-term goal is to get legislators and the governor to pass a law that would let non-violent felons vote once they’re out of prison.
“It’s also a matter of common sense to treat less serious and non-violent offenses less harshly,” Bettis says.
If that bill were to clear the legislature, Governor Branstad is likely to veto it.
“It’s not fair to the honest, law-abiding citizens of Iowa that felons would be just given a free pass without meeting their obligations,” Branstad said Monday during his weekly news conference.
Branstad grants some felons the right to vote on a case-by-case basis. To be successful, felons must complete an application and show they’re current in paying fines and restitution.
(Reporting by Iowa Public Radio’s Sarah Boden; additional reporting by Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson)