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Pate: Voting Not A Right, But A Privilege

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Flickr / Jeff Gitchel
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A Polk County, Iowa ballot from Nov. 7, 2006.

Iowa’s Secretary of State Paul Pate says the Iowa Supreme Court should not be determining who can and cannot vote. 

Iowa's constitution says people convicted of infamous crimes are forever prohibited from voting, though some with felony convictions have successfully petitioned to have their rights restored. The state's high court is currently considering if "infamous crimes" means all felonies.

Pate, who is named in the case, told WHO Radio on Monday that he opposes the Supreme Court making changes to Iowa voting laws. The secretary of state says it should be left to the lawmakers to decide which crimes should bar someone from voting, when the legislature determines which crimes are felonies.

"There are some judges who sometimes I think, get a little confused on who writes the laws, and who interprets laws," says Pate.

Pate went on the say in Iowa voting is not a right, but a privilege. 

"Our constitution for Iowa, uses the word 'privilege' to vote. Not 'right," says Pate. "If you create a problem in society by committing a crime, what we call an infamous crime, there's a price you pay. And one of those is you lose your privilege to vote." 

The Iowa ACLU is spearheading the legal effort to expand felon voting rights in Iowa. Rita Bettis, the civil rights organization's legal director, told the high court last week during oral arguments that voters should be able to choose their representatives, rather than representatives choosing their voters. 

"I think that principle is ingrained in our constitution, and has been since the very beginning," says Bettis.