Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Iowa
Current Felony Disenfranchisement Law
In an enormous step backward, Governor Terry Branstad took office in Iowa in January 2011 and rescinded Executive Order 42 that had restored voting rights to Iowa citizens who had completed their sentences. The Brennan Center worked allies to try to dissuade Governor Branstad from taking this step. A coalition of non-partisan and faith-based Iowa organizations sent Governor Branstad a sign-on letter urging him to maintain Executive Order 42. Both the American Probation and Parole Association and the American Correctional Association sent letters to Governor Branstad encouraging him to maintain the policy. The American Bar Association also sent a letter to the new Governor explaining why they supported the 2005 executive order. The Des Moines Register also published a strong editorial urging the Governor to maintain the policy. Despite the strong support for restoring voting rights, Governor Branstad issued his own executive order permanently disenfranchising people in Iowa unless they apply to his office for approval. Iowa now joins Florida, Kentucky and Virginia as the last states in the country to permanently disenfranchise all people with criminal convictions unless restored by the Governor. To read more about the coverage of this issue in Iowa, please click here. To read a recent editorial about the change in voter restoration in Iowa, please click here.
2005 Executive Order 42
To mark Independence Day on July 4, 2005, the former Governor issued an executive order restoring voting rights to the approximately 80,000 people who had completed felony sentences but remained disenfranchised. The order also provides for ongoing restorations as more people complete their sentences.
Legal analysis and executive advocacy
Under the Iowa Constitution, people convicted of felonies are permanently disenfranchised. Brennan Center research established that the process for amending this provision would be long and difficult. We therefore did research on executive clemency under the Iowa Constitution to clarify the Governor’s power to restore voting rights.
In the summer of 2005, when a county attorney in Iowa challenged the Governor’s power to issue the executive order in Allison v. Vilsack, the Center drafted an amicus brief that focused on cases supporting broad clemency powers in an array of states. The state court upheld the Governor’s authority to restore voting rights en masse. The Brennan Center applauded that decision in a press release.