Iowa is one of four states that requires felons who have finished their sentences to appeal directly to the governor if they want their voting rights restored. As Nicole Flatow at Think Progress points out, when Democrat Tom Vilsack was governor, he issued an executive order automatically restoring felons' voting rights when they completed their sentences. But Republican Gov. Terry Branstad reversed that ruling. As a consequence only 12 of the 8,000 felons who have finished their sentences have had their voting rights restored.
The way the law works now is confusing both to ex-convicts and public officials.
For the 2012 election, at least a dozen citizens who weren't felons were included on a list of people barred from voting and at least three offenders were mistakenly removed from the list.
As a result of a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court, that situation may be headed for a slight change that could enfranchise some felons.
The case involved Anthony Bisignano, a state Senate candidate whose opponent sought to have disqualified on the grounds that Iowans who have committed an "infamous crime" cannot run for public office. Those who have committed "infamous crimes" are also barred from voting unless the governor proves merciful.
Without making a distinction between misdemeanors and felonies, the Iowa Supreme Court has previously categorized an "infamous crime" as one that carries the possibility of time in the penitentiary. Bisignano's crime was a second offense of drunk driving, which he said should not be considered "infamous." Under the law, that offense is an "aggravated misdemeanor," which can be punished with time in the slam. But the justices this time found the "infamous" label too harsh for that particular crime and reaffirmed the lower court's decision saying Bisignano should not be disqualified.
But they went further, noting at length that the Court had previously considered the meaning of "infamous crime" in a number of cases. The justices determined that the Supreme Court had wrongly decided previous cases and mere punishment by prison time should not be the determining factor as to whether a crime is "infamous." The upshot: Many misdemeanor offenders and some felons now may not have to depend on gubernatorial clemency to get their voting rights restored.
But the ruling leaves behind a tangled web since, other than Bisignano's particular offense, no bright line was drawn between what is and what is not an "infamous crime." Tom Vilsack had the right idea. Returning to that approach would make a lot more sense, be a lot more fair and present no danger to the public or the electoral process. The system was broken, Vilsack fixed it, and Branstad rebroke it.
More on the war on voting can be found below the orange butterfly ballot.
• McAuliffe accelerating restoration of felons' voting rights: For several years, Virginia has been working to make it easier and quicker for violent felons as well as some others who have finished their sentences to get their voting rights restored. On April 21, thanks to the efforts of Democratic Gov. Terry McAufliffe, some new rules will go into effect that makes progress in that direction.
Under state law, there is a long list of crimes that require those convicted of committing them to wait five years before they can appeal to get their voting right back after their sentences have been served, fines paid and restitution. Now the felons on that list will only have to wait three years instead of five to appeal. And those with drug offenses will no longer be on the list of those who have to wait.
That's an improvement but it still falls short of the automatic restoration that would make a lot more sense. But reformers have failed to persuade Virginia voters of the wisdom of the automatic re-enfranchisement. Virginia is one of eight states that mandate permanent loss of voting rights for some felons unless they successfully appeal to the governor. McAuliffe has granted restoration to about 800 felons since coming in office in January. All told, the Sentencing Project estimates that about 350,000 Virginians have been disenfranchised for felony offenses.
• Media Matters pokes holes in right-wing media lies on voting rights: Among those myths—Voter Fraud Is Real And Widespread, New Voter ID Laws Uphold The Integrity Of The Election Process, Voter ID Laws Don't Affect Turnout, There's Proof Of Extensive Double-Voting In Recent Elections. Media Matters' Meagan Hatcher-Mays debunks all these myths extensively.
• Gov. Cuomo signs up New York as part of National Popular Vote: The governor's signature on legislation committing to an interstate compact that could weaken the skewing impact of the Electoral College if enough other states join.
Under the compact, states agree to give all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide. The compact does not take effect until states with a total of 270 electoral votes have signed it. That's 61 percent of the votes it takes to win the presidency.
So far, adding in New York's 29 votes, 11 jurisdictions totaling 165 electoral have signed the compact: California, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
If and when states with the additional 105 votes have signed the compact, the United States will hold its first election in which all citizens' votes in those states will count equally.
• Promised bipartisan fix of Voting Rights Act stalled in Congress: Surprise. Legislation to update procedures that were demolished by the Supreme Court's ruling in Shelby County v. Holder were introduced earlier this year. And, says Cameron Joseph at The Hill, the bill would probably pass both Senate and House if it were brought up for a vote even though many members on both sides of the aisle aren't completely happy about it.
Some liberal Democrats, for instance, don't like the fact that nine states were covered under the overturned parts of the Voting Rights Act and only four would be under the new legislation.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who has pushed the post-Shelby revisions, was a strong backer of the 2006 renewal of the Voting Rights Act and introduced the latest legislation in the House, thinks the bill will pass by the end of the year. It is, however, as he acknowledges in the hands of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who has said he backs an amended VRA, but has not yet endorsed the Sensenbrenner legislation.
To vote, an Arkansas citizen must now be in possession of a I.D. card issued by the federal government, the state or an accredited postsecondary school in Arkansas. Don't have a car? No longer driving? Aren't in the military? Aren't in school? Not a world traveler equipped with a passport? Don't work for the state? Maybe your nursing home director will go to the trouble of getting a document attesting that you are who you are. (Or maybe not.) Or maybe you can get a friend to haul you over to a motor vehicle department to get a photo I.D., or you can come up with bus fare after you figure out where to go. Have a religious objection to being photographed? Get an affidavit and take it to the County Board of Election Commissioners.Here's the ACLU brief.
• Why putting photos on Social Security cards won't save voting rights: Michael Hiltzik's take on Andrew Young's idea.
• Could America Become a Banana Republic?. Norm Ornstein's take on the McCutcheon decision.