New coalition to fight for felon voting rights in Iowa

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Photo by Rachel Jessen
Photo by Rachel Jessen

Seventeen Iowa organizations have formed a coalition to pursue legislation and a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to Iowans with a felony conviction.

Iowa is one of only four states with a permanent constitution voting ban for people with felony convictions, and one of only three states that require individuals to apply for a restoration of their voting rights.

Over 52,000 people in Iowa are unable to vote due to a felony conviction, according to estimates from the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit research organization that advocates for criminal justice reform. Felony charges can include non-violent drug offenses and non-violent thefts.

“As we all head to the polls this November, it’s important to remember those who have been left behind,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis said in a press release sent Tuesday. “Voting rights are the foundation of citizenship. But more than 50,000 Iowans — a number that grows by the day — remain unable to vote, even though they have completed their sentences and have rejoined their communities.”

Bettis also cited concerns about the voting ban disproportionately affecting black people in Iowa.

“Iowa’s current system is unfair, and leads to the systemic disproportionate disenfranchisement of Black Iowans, leaving them without a voice in our political process. It’s past time that our state corrected what is arguably the largest civil rights violation under our laws by ending felony disenfranchisement for good,” Bettis said.

The coalition plans to push for a new bill during the upcoming legislative session that would ensure nonviolent crimes do not disqualify individuals from voting and create an automatic voting rights restoration process for individuals who have completed their sentences.

Coalition members

  • The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa (ACLU of Iowa)
  • The Iowa-Nebraska NAACP
  • League of Women Voters of Iowa
  • League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) of Iowa
  • Iowa CURE
  • Iowa Coalition 4 Juvenile Justice
  • St. Paul AME Church, Des Moines
  • Women at the Well
  • Trinity United Methodist Church
  • American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrants Voice Program
  • Iowa CCI Action Fund
  • Iowa Justice Action Network
  • Las Americas Comunidad de Fe
  • Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness/Advocacy Network
  • Iowa Conference United Methodist Church Legislative Advocacy Team
  • Methodist Federation for Social Action Iowa
  • Iowa Catholic Conference

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  1. If you aren’t willing to follow the law yourself, then you can’t demand a role in making the law for everyone else, which is what you do when you vote. The right to vote can be restored to felons, but it should be done carefully, on a case-by-case basis after a person has shown that he or she has really turned over a new leaf, not automatically on the day someone walks out of prison. After all, the unfortunate truth is that most people who walk out of prison will be walking back in. Read more about this issue on our website here [ ] and our congressional testimony here: [ ].

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