Earlier this year, we covered a major issue in the world of criminal rights: voters' rights restoration. Many states, including Iowa, revoke a person's right to vote if he or she is convicted a felony. Although the current governor has taken a hard line against restoring the ability of many to vote, a recent state supreme court ruling has potential to move things in a different direction.
Iowa's top court was faced with a case involving a candidate for state office who had previously been convicted of an aggravated misdemeanor. His opponent attempted to disqualify him as the result of the state's constitution that prevents anyone convicted of an "infamous crime" from being eligible to vote.
For some time, the ambiguous nature of "infamous crime" has been interpreted to include felony crimes. However, by issuing a challenge to the man's candidacy, lower crimes would have been lumped in with felonies.
However, the Iowa Supreme Court denied the challenge and stated that any type of misdemeanor shouldn't lead to voter disenfranchisement. Furthermore, the court determined that certain felonies might not even meet that mark. As a result, this opened the door to re-enfranchisement for a number of felons.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that state officials plan to enforce the current voting policy in spite of the ruling. As a result, no felons will be given the ability to vote, unless the governor specifically restores those rights. At this point, there is no indication as to whether the state government's position on this issue will be challenged.
Being convicted of a felony can have a lifetime of consequences. In Iowa, a person may never be afforded the right to vote again. Even after paying their debt to society and changing their life, many people will never be able to participate in the activity that is fundamental to our representative government.
Source: Associated Press, "Despite ruling, Iowa to bar all felons from voting," Ryan J. Foley, April 16, 2014Associated Press, "Iowa Supreme Court hears key voting rights case," David Pitt, April 9, 2014