Compelling arguments can be made for restoring the voting rights of felons. A proposed constitutional amendment in support of automatic restoration passed through the Iowa House in 2019, but it died in the Iowa Senate.
In reality, there are legislators in both chambers who are uncomfortable moving forward with a constitutional amendment when too many terms are undefined. At issue is what constitutes a felon completing his or her sentence?
Is it strictly fulfilling a prison sentence or does it also include completing restitution payments?
I appreciate that legislators are taking their time on this issue in an effort to best address everyone’s concerns, especially the concerns of victims.
But here is one concern that popped up to me regarding this issue in 2019.
The Iowa House had overwhelming support for automatic restoration of voting rights for felons. It was a 95-2 vote. Part of the argument in favor of restoring the voting rights for felons is it makes them whole again. It makes them feel valued and part of the community. It gives them a voice. It makes them a better citizen.
All are fair points.
But then, two or three weeks after the vote on the automatic restoration of voting rights, the same Iowa House made sure those same felons who so desperately deserve their right to vote could not and do not deserve their right to self defense.
This came up in the debate over a bill that will prohibit colleges and universities from banning stun guns on campus. The House had basically one exception for adults wanting to carry a stun gun on campus — you could not be a convicted felon.
To me it sends a very confusing message to felons. On one hand, Iowa legislators in the House care about the right to vote for felons. On the other, they don’t care if felons don’t have the right to self defense.
If a felon has completed his or her sentence, and the legislature believes they deserve their right to vote, why does it end there? Why would felons not be entitled to having all of their rights restored?
Should the legislature and the Governor continue to push forward on this issue of automatically restoring the voting rights of felons, I would highly encourage them to consider including all rights.
If we’re going to go down this road of restoring rights, then let’s go all the way and be consistent.