For Immediate Release
Thursday, June 17, 2005
Brennan Center Applauds Iowa Governors Restoration of Voting Rights
Iowa Governor Thomas Vilsack today issued an executive order that will provide for the blanket restoration of voting rights of all Iowans who have completed their sentences for felony crimes. With this move, which will re-enfranchise some 50,000 citizens who have served their time and are working, tax-paying members of their communities, Iowa joins the growing national trend of rights restoration for people with criminal convictions. Until todays move, Iowa was one of the five most restrictive states in the nation with regard to its criminal disenfranchisement policies. The Governors order, exercised under his clemency power, represents a significant victory for voting rights. The order will take effect, fittingly, on July 4 of this year.
We applaud Governor Vilsacks action today and his commitment to helping make the promise of American democracy real, said Catherine Weiss, associate counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and the Centers lead attorney working on right to vote issues. This is a huge victory for voting rights and for civil rights; it is a bold strike for justice and equality.
The Brennan Center has been actively involved in the nationwide movement to restore voting rights for over half a decade through litigation, research, expert testimony and legal advice, and partnership with a broad coalition of organizations through the national Right to Vote Campaign. The Brennan Center provided research and analysis in the Iowa case, which, among other things, showed that the governor could use his clemency power, as he did today, to restore the voting rights of those who have completed their sentences. And the Brennan Center stands ready to assist state advocates in educating potential voters about their new rights and in registering them to vote. The executive order will make former felons eligible, but they must still register in order to vote.
Governor Vilsacks executive order is significant not just because restoring voting rights strengthens democracy by increasing voter participation, but also because Iowas role in the presidential primary schedule shines a spotlight on the state and signals its leadership in the nation. The restrictions lifted today had a disproportionate impact on minority communities. Although African-Americans make up only 2% of Iowas population, nearly 25% of the states African Americans were disenfranchised, the highest rate in the nation. The restoration of voting rights to people with felony convictions, in Iowa as throughout the nation, is thus critical for the full realization of civil rights.
Additional information can be found on the Center’s Voting After Criminal Conviction page.