Letter to the Editor

Courts shouldn't dictate who votes in Iowa

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Iowa is one of the best states in the nation in terms of accessibility to the polls. Participating in the electoral process is a civic responsibility that I feel every eligible citizen should undertake. Throughout my tenures as Iowa's Secretary of State, I have worked vigorously to encourage and enable every eligible Iowan with registering to vote and participating in the electoral process. I take voter participation very seriously.

My role as Secretary of State includes presiding as Iowa's Commissioner of Elections. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation out there regarding our state's voting laws. I would like to clarify and clean up some misconceptions.

First, Iowa does not permanently disqualify felons from voting. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misinformed or is misleading you. All Iowans convicted of a felony have the opportunity to have their voting privileges restored, unless they are serving a life sentence behind bars.

I use the word "privileges" because voting for our representative form of government is a privilege. Hundreds of thousands of our brave men and women fought and died to ensure all U.S. citizens had that sacred privilege. Our state's Founding Fathers used the term "privilege" in regards to voting when they drafted the Iowa Constitution 160 years ago.

Unfortunately, some Iowans have forfeited that privilege, but it is not an arduous process to have it restored. Once felons complete their sentences and pay their debt to society, or are on track to pay restitution, they can request that the Governor's Office restore their voting privileges.

Despite what you might have heard, the process is not difficult. Felons can fill out a simple 29-question form and send it to the Governor's office. Within a couple of months, chances are very good that their privileges will be restored. It is very disappointing that the same special interest groups that claim to want to help Iowans vote have chosen not to help felons utilize this process.

It is equally troubling to hear Washington D.C.-based special interest groups come to our state and testify to our state Supreme Court that Iowa should allow imprisoned child molesters, murderers and rapists vote in our elections. That is what happened in Des Moines on Wednesday. Their view does not represent Iowa values.

The Iowa Supreme Court is being asked to erase more than 100 years of legal precedent and redefine the meaning of "infamous crime." As argued by Iowa Solicitor General Jeff Thompson, the definition of infamous crime has long included all felonies. Whether you are looking in common law books, U.S. Supreme Court history or in Webster's Dictionary, they all agree: All felonies are infamous crimes.

Iowa law, enshrined in our Constitution of 1857, is clear: No person convicted of any infamous crime shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector.

The founders of our state believed this. Less than 10 years ago, the people of Iowa and our legislators in two consecutive general assemblies reaffirmed the view that people convicted of an infamous crime lose their voting privileges. The people of Iowa and their elected representatives have spoken, repeatedly: A felony is an infamous crime.

A separate issue is the definition of a felony. If Iowans want to remove some crimes from the classification of felony, I am in favor of having that debate. However, it should be our elected leaders, not judges, that make this determination.

I am proud of Iowa's record of clean, fair and accessible elections. We have worked to make voter access easier through electronic voter registration. The ability to register to vote is available anytime and anywhere with internet access. In fact, we have same-day voter registration on Election Day.

Iowans now have six different ways to register to vote. They have four different ways to cast a ballot. We have longer early voting periods, longer polling hours and a higher percentage of the population registered to vote than almost every other state.

I will continue to find ways to ensure and encourage every eligible Iowan has the ability to vote. I will also continue to fight for the integrity of the ballot.