According to some Iowa prosecutors, it doesn’t matter if it was a mistake. It doesn’t matter if they asked for a provisional ballot. The only thing that matters is that they were a former felon and they voted or attempted to vote.
The governor has proposed that Iowa restore people’s voting rights after they’ve served their sentences, but people are still being charged. The charge is typically election misconduct, a felony carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison. These cases also average $1,578 in fines and court costs, according to the Associated Press.
Iowa is one of only three states that strips people of their voting rights for life after a felony conviction. Last fall, Florida voters lifted that state’s lifetime ban, leaving only Kentucky, Virginia and Iowa with such a ban.
That doesn’t help the 10 people charged with election misconduct since 2017. The AP found that several of them had convincing reasons in their defense, but only one case was dismissed. A low-income man from Muscatine cast a provisional ballot in order to dispute his ineligibility. He had been told his rights had been restored. Nevertheless, he owes $2,300 in court costs that he can ill afford.
The other nine defendants reached plea agreements, but they still received probation or prison time and fines. One was still on the felon list due to a bureaucratic error. Another thought the election judges would let him know if there was a problem. A third was on the list after a judge revoked the deferred judgment in his case, which gave him a sudden, unexpected felony conviction. He may simply have misunderstood the situation.
The AP points out that many felons are unclear about whether they can vote and how to get their voting rights restored. (The process involves applying to the governor, but few people apply.)
Also, the felon list can be inaccurate and not all precincts check potential voters against it.
Sometimes, people on the felon list are simply turned away from voting with no consequences. Others are offered provisional ballots to have their eligibility determined later — but get charged with election misconduct. Some are allowed to vote and think nothing is wrong until they are later charged.
Prosecutors say the charges are necessary, if harsh
“Iowans do value the integrity of our electoral process,” the Clinton County Attorney told the AP. However, he acknowledged that he shows restraint in charging people because “the consequences are huge.”
Do you think there should be serious consequences for a former felon voting no matter the reason? Do you support the governor’s proposal to restore voting rights once the sentence is served?