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Voting Rights Must Be “Earned” Back, Says Iowa Governor

Regaining voting rights for former felons in Iowa just got harder.

Making good on a campaign promise, the newly-elected governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad, a Republican, has rescinded a July 4, 2005 executive order that allowed felons to vote after they completed their sentences.

Branstad signed a new executive order in January 2011, hours after taking office, that requires payment of all court costs, fines and restitution before voting rights are restored. Several other states have similar re-enfranchisement requirements, including Florida and Tennessee.

Branstad’s decision was quickly denounced by local community leaders. Rev. Keith Ratliff, a prominent member of the NAACP’s Iowa chapter, said the governor’s new executive order discriminates against black Iowans.

“We believe in second chances and second chances should never be based on one’s ability to financially pay, but one’s desire to do better,” Ratliff noted.

In a state where blacks represent only 2.8 percent of the population, a quarter of Iowa’s prison population is black.

Ratliff compared Branstad’s decision to make the restoration of voting rights contingent on repayment of monetary penalties to Jim Crow-era laws that required blacks to pay a “poll tax” before they were allowed to vote. Under the governor’s new executive order, only former felons who have the ability to pay their fines, restitution and court costs can regain their voting rights.

The American Correctional Association and the American Probation and Parole Association wrote to Governor Branstad, voicing their opposition to restricting the restoration of voting rights for ex-prisoners.

However, aides to the governor said Branstad believes that felons should have to “earn” back their right to vote. One would think they have earned that right after serving their sentences and being released from prison.

Sources: Des Moines Register, Iowa Radio News Network

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