The Iowa Supreme Court issued a 4-3 decision on Thursday affirming a state law which prohibits convicted felons from voting for the rest of their lives.
The legal question centers around original language of the state constitution that “[n]o idiot, or insane person, or person convicted of any infamous crime, shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector.”
A 1994 Iowa state statute defines an “infamous crime” as any felony conviction.
The law was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Iowa on behalf of Kelli Jo Griffin, convicted of felony cocaine charges in 2008. After completing her jail-term, Griffin unwittingly cast a ballot in violation of the law in Nov. 2013 and was subsequently prosecuted for committing perjury.
Plaintiffs attorneys argue that only elections and public office-related felonies warrant lifetime disenfranchisement.
Gov. Terry Branstad and Secretary of State Paul Pate applauded the decision however, the latter citing “150 years of [legal] precedence”.
After the ruling was announced, ACLU attorney Rita Bettis called for a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to Iowa’s ex-felons, which she said is “long over-due.”
Iowa law experts say that going through the arduous process of amending the constitution is not necessary though, and asserted that a state statute could effectively change the meaning of an “infamous crime”, which in the past has been interpreted as any violation that results in a prison sentence.
To-date, over 56,000 Iowa state residents are prohibited from participating in the elections process due to their criminal record, 7,400 of which are currently in jail.
Iowa is one of only three states that have enacted lifetime voting bans for a prior felony conviction. The swing-state of Florida and the now-solidly Republican Commonwealth of Kentucky, also have similar statutes.
Chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party, Andy McGuire, said Thursday’s ruling “keeps Iowa on the extreme fringe of voter disenfranchisement,” as the only recourse for ex-felons in the Hawkeye State is through an appeal to the governor’s office which requires applicants to pay court costs and restitution.
Thursday’s decision by the state Supreme Court is not eligible for appeal.
Iowa and Florida are both considered up for grabs in the 2016 presidential election, with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading both by mid-single digits — on par with national polls which have Republican Donald Trump trailing by five percentage points.
[Des Moines Register] [AP] [RealClear Politics] [Photo courtesy wvva.com]