Republicans have taken the effort to suppress voting rights nationwide, including in Iowa.
Iowa Republicans have done their part, if not as egregiously as in other states.
They would do more to suppress voting rights if they controlled our bicameral legislature and the governorship.
One of the first things Iowa Governor Terry Branstad did in 2011 when he assumed office was to reverse Governor Tom Vilsack’s executive order to automatically restore voting rights to convicted felons who had served their time.
Branstad established an application process for such felons, making it more difficult to regain their voting rights.
“Restoring voting rights to Iowans who have committed felonies is something that I take very seriously as governor,” Branstad said July 11 during his weekly news conference. “To automatically restore the right to vote without requiring the completion of the responsibilities associated with the criminal conviction would severely damage the balance of rights and responsibilities that we all have as citizens.”
“Iowa is one of only three states – alongside Kentucky and Florida – to impose permanent disenfranchisement for all people with felony convictions, unless the government approves individual rights restoration,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. “On June 30, 2016, the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the state’s disenfranchisement law in a 4-3 split decision in a case called Griffin v. Pate.”
After Griffin v. Pate, State Representative Mary Wolfe (D-Clinton) said the Iowa legislature was presented with an opportunity regarding voting rights.
“In my opinion, the majority ruling seems to invite the General Assembly to amend current Iowa Code to redefine ‘infamous crime’ for purposes of disenfranchisement as something other than all felonies,” Iowa state Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton said to the Des Moines Register. “I certainly think the average Iowan would not agree that all felonies, every category of felonies, reaches the level of infamous crimes.”
Would such legislation advance in Iowa’s divided legislature? Republicans can be expected to block it in today’s political environment.
Blog for Iowa author Dave Bradley wrote last weekend, “There is no shortage of Republicans in positions of authority who will do nearly anything for their party to win elections, no matter what.”
Iowa native Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, points to North Carolina as an example of what Republicans have done to suppress voting rights.
Three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, the North Carolina legislature toughened its voter ID bill, already the most restrictive in the country, according to Berman.
Quoting North Carolina State Senator Josh Stern, Berman laid out what the bill added:
- Shortened early voting by one week.
- Eliminated same day voting and provisional voting if at wrong precinct.
- Prevented counties from offering voting after 1 p.m. on the last Saturday before the election.
- Prevented counties from extending poll hours by one hour on election day due to extraordinary circumstances like lengthy lines.
- Eliminated state supported voter registration drives and preregistration for 16/17 year old citizens.
- Repealed voter owned judicial elections and straight party voting.
- Increased the number of people who can challenge voting inside a precinct.
- More frequent purging of voter rolls.
On Friday, July 29, a federal court ruled North Carolina’s voting restrictions were “intentionally discriminatory.”
Would Iowa pass such a bill? It’s hard to say.
We can expect the conflict over voting rights to continue in the federal courts as Republican-controlled states attempt to reduce the number of people eligible to vote.
Progressive Iowa Democrats should work to retain our slim Senate majority as a firewall against further Republican voter suppression efforts.
To help retain a Democratic Senate majority, send a check to the Senate Majority Fund (Committee ID #9098), 5661 Fleur Drive, Des Moines, Iowa 50321.