Iowa Felony Disenfranchisement Update

On December 28th, Governor Terry Brandstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds announced a streamlined restoration of voting rights application process for returning citizens.

The announcement followed a meeting with NAACP leaders in mid-November that addressed the organization’s concerns about Iowa’s criminal justice system and felony disenfranchisement practices.

“We met with Governor Brandstad to fight for the rights of individuals who have paid their debt to society and continue to be treated as second class citizens,” said Arnold Woods, President of the NAACP Iowa and Nebraska State Conference. “We are pleased that Governor Brandstad has responded to our request and the and the requests of his constituency to review the policy and make the necessary changes.”

According to a statement released today by the Governor’s Office the application has been updated to include:

— Simplified instructions for applicants;
— Clarification of the current policy about submitting documentation to show an applicant completed paying their fines, restitution and court costs or has been making consistent payments in good faith;
— Contact information so applicants can obtain free resources to help them fill out the application;
— Removal of the requirement for a credit history check for the voting application; and,
— A more detailed “checklist of materials” to help applicants turn in a completed application

“A streamlined application is a good first step. We will continue fighting for every Iowan’s right to vote to be fully respected,” said Benjamin Todd Jealous, President & CEO of the NAACP.  “Any American who has committed a crime and served their time behind bars should be allowed to vote upon their release. It is a step in the right direction for them, and for our country.”

“Automatic restoration of voting rights is preferred, however it is clear that the Governor and his staff have been responsive to our specific requests to reduce many of the barriers in the previous process.  This is one of many areas in which the NAACP will continue to champion fairness,” said Betty C. Andrews, Criminal Justice Chair of the NAACP Iowa and Nebraska State Conference. 

In 2011, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad reinstated felony disenfranchisement restrictions that were eliminated in 2005 by former Governor Tom Vilsack. Since 2011, an estimated 8,000 former offenders have re-entered Iowa society. Under the policy instituted by Brandstad only 12 of those citizens obtained the restoration of their rights. The NAACP contends that the number is low because of the difficulty interested citizens encounter when trying to have their rights restored.

Data provided by the Governor’s office noted that of the forty-five applications reviewed under the new policy, 19 applications were granted and nine applications were pending. Finally, six applications were deemed incomplete and one was submitted by an incarcerated and ineligible individual.

“The NAACP will continue to review the new policies and we look forward to working with Governor Branstad on its implementation,” said Dedric Doolin, Member of the NAACP National Board of Directors.

The NAACP Restore the Votes Campaign aims to restore the rights for millions of citizens formerly convicted of felonies.  The campaign was launched in October following the NAACP’s delegation at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.  As part of the visit, the delegation held a panel discussion on felony disenfranchisement and the attack on voting rights in states across the nation.

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