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Many Iowans Mistakenly Identified as Felons, Purged From Voter Lists

A large number of voters in Iowa were mistakenly purged from the voter rolls due to a faulty state-promulgated list that showed they were felons.

Rick Brown, 47, of Madrid, a postal worker, was a typical case. Brown never did any jail time, but did receive deferred adjudication on a domestic assault charge in 1997. Nonetheless, he received a letter a couple of weeks before the election, telling him his name had been purged as a convicted felon.

"I was frustrated and I just don't understand," said Brown. The problem varied in intensity from county to county.

"The problem appeared to be the largest in Linn County, where only 35 people on a list of 145 from the secretary of state's office were actual felons," according to Anthony Carroll, spokesman for the Iowa Secretary of State's Office. "We made every effort to make sure that was an up-to-date list," said Carroll. "The bottom line is it's still not a clean list."

The names on the list were purged on October 23, 2004, and some people received letters saying that they were ineligible to vote.

"We started getting irate phone calls," said Linn County Auditor Linda Langenberg.

Whereas Linn County rechecked the names and reinstated the 110 that were erroneously purged, some counties never used the list.

"The records that we get are not accurate," said Polk County Auditor Michael Murro. I don't think it's ever been accurate. I've been dealing with it for years."

Murro crosschecked each name he purged with actual court records.. Likewise, Cerro, Gordo and Pottawattamie Counties did not use the list.

Carroll claims that the state court administration, which provides the names of convicted felons to the secretary of state's office, is to blame for the inaccuracies in the list. County clerks, who send information monthly to auditors and the secretary of state's office, may also share in the blame. Carroll is hoping that the list will improve when the state moves to a statewide voter registration database.

One problem, according to Ben Stoner, Executive Director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, is the lack of a law requiring notification to people whose names have been purged.

"If some one does not get notice, they have no ability to challenge it before the election," said Stoner.
He intends to lobby for legislation requiring such notification.

Perhaps we should reconsider whether it is wise to deny felons the right to vote. It is unlikely that irresponsible people will bother to vote, regardless of their criminal history, and purging the voter rolls endangers the voting rights of all citizens.

Source: Des Moines Register.

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