Iowa's disenfranchisement of thousands of felons is an egregious effort at voter suppression. It's an obvious attempt to keep certain populations ← disproportionately of color ← from holding political power.
And, after to Tuesday's federal court ruling in Florida, it sure looks flatly unconstitutional to boot.
That's the only possible takeway from U.S. District Judge Mark Walker's decision, which this week struck down Florida's draconian system for voting rights restoration. Florida's discredited system of enfranchisement is bad enough, requiring the direct approval from the governor or one of his cabinet for the restoration of a felon's voting rights.
Iowa's is even worse, a method chiseled into stone under former-Gov. Terry Branstad. Only the governor can restore voting rights in Iowa. And, under the most recent administrations, hell would freeze over before someone who's done their time could again exercise their constitutionally protected right to the voting booth.
Iowa's is a system that breeds personal bias, at least that'd be true if the Governor's Office ever considered restoring voting rights. Instead, more than 56,000 Iowans are disenfranchised, roughly 49,000 of whom are out of prison, say state records. Iowa's among just four states with such grossly disproportionate displays of voter suppression ← methods that, combined with economic and cultural factors ← create a population of former criminals barred from fully accessing society.
At least in Florida, voters are taking matters into their own hands. More than 1 million Floridians signed a petition that forced the issue onto November's ballot. Some 1.5 million felons are disenfranchised in that state, reported the Tampa Bay Times. In Iowa, the very real problem has suffered from total neglect since Gov. Kim Reynolds came power. By and large, Reynolds has been loathed to undermine policy adopted by her mentor, Branstad.
Bipartisan legislation sat untouched in the Iowa House Judiciary Committee. So, too, has the associated movement to amend the state Constitution. Iowa Legislature's self-imposed "funnel" essentially means the bill is dead this year. And previous efforts to force the issue through the state courts have fallen short. Iowa's political elite simply lack the will to overhaul a system constructed with the express purpose of locking a subset of the population out of society.
But that was before Tuesday's decision, which fundamentally destroyed Florida's argument for the status quo.
Judge Walker ordered Florida to create an impartial mechanism outside the Governor's Office where felons could petition for voting rights. Considering Reynolds' past run-ins with the law, one would think that she would be a true believer in an individual's ability to change.
Tuesday's ruling in Florida reiterates the shameful flouting of the U.S. Constitution that's inherent within Iowa's treatment of felons. It's imperative that the Legislature next year take seriously its duty to uphold the Constitution and extend voting to those who've done their time. In the meantime, Gov. Reynolds should create an interim committee that expedites the dozens of petitions that have been ignored for too long.