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Iowa's Felon Voting Ban Remains Intact

John Pemble/IPR file photo
Iowa Supreme Court

This story updates a report from earlier this morning.

Iowans with felony convictions will continue to be permanently banned from the voting booth, after today’s 4-3 ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court.

As a result, Iowa maintains its status as one of three states with lifetime voting bans for felons.

Griffin v. Pate asked justices to determine if all felonies are infamous crimes, or if the term refers to a more narrow class of crimes.  Iowa’s constitution says people convicted of infamous crimes may  not vote. A majority of justices agree that the term applies to all felonies.

"An infamous crime has evolved to be defined as a felony," write chief Justice Mark Cady for the majority. "This is the community standard expressed by our legislature and is consistent with the basic standard we have used over the years."

As a result, the ACLU of Iowa says lifetime voting bans of over 50,000 people in the state remain intact.

"The reality is that right now we have the harshest system in the country," says Rita Bettis, who represented appellant Kelli Griffin.  "Everybody who has had a felony conviction, even if it's for a nonviolent drug offense like our client...that's disqualifying for life."

Bettis says now efforts will shift to legislation that will re-enfranchise voters. It’s unclear whether a constitutional amendment would be necessary. That process would take at least four years.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate was the appellee in the case. He says the state Supreme Court followed the state’s constitution by affirming Iowa’s ban on allowing felons to vote.

"I think that’s a ruling that is in line with the 150 years of precedence and has been reaffirmed by the people of Iowa and their representatives on multiple occasions," says Pate. "I took an oath to uphold the constitution of the state of Iowa and I will continue to do that."

The majority opinion does leave room for Iowa to re-enfranchise felons in the future, as the justices acknowledge the topic of felon voting is an evolving issue.