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Bipartisan Bill Would Restore Voting Rights for Iowa Felons

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

A bipartisan bill that would restore voting rights to Iowa felons who have completed their criminal sentences moved forward Monday in the Iowa House.

Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton. They both agreed to move the bill to the full House Judiciary Committee.

“I agree there should be a process as far as for allowing folks who have served their time, who have paid their restitution, for nonviolent felons to be reintegrated back into society, to give them a second chance, to reenfranchise them as far as their voice at the voting booth,” Heartsill says.

Iowa is one of four states that does not automatically allow felons to vote after they have completed their sentences.

Iowans convicted of a felony can apply to have their voting rights restored by the governor. But the process is complex, and the ACLU estimates nearly 6 percent of adults in the state will lose the ability to vote as a result.

Betty Andrews is president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP. She told the subcommittee not having the right to vote is an extra punishment that is crippling for minority communities.

“Once a crime is done, once they have paid their debt in terms of the incarceration and probation, it is very appropriate to make sure that they are not continually wearing that scarlet letter on their chest,” Andrews says.

The bill would also allow some felons to own firearms.

Heartsill says he is not sure how far the bill will go this session.

“I hope we’ll push it as far as we can this year,” Heartsill says. “But at least we got the ball rolling.”

Heartsill adds the Iowa Constitution would have to be amended before this bill could take effect.