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Disenfranchisement News: Iowa Supreme Court to Hear Felony Disenfranchisement Challenge

March 02, 2016
Iowa Supreme Court to hear felony disenfranchisement challenge, Hawaii bill would give some people in prison the right to vote, and more in our latest Disenfranchisement News.

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Iowa Supreme Court to hear felony disenfranchisement challenge

The Iowa Supreme Court recently agreed to hear a challenge to the state’s strict disenfranchisement laws, which impose a lifetime ban on voting for anyone convicted of a felony. The lawsuit seeks to clarify language in the state’s constitution, which bans voting for those convicted of an “infamous crime.” Until recently, the state had considered all felonies to be infamous crimes, but a 2014 Iowa Supreme Court ruling questioned that interpretation.

The ACLU of Iowa filed the lawsuit on behalf of Kelli Joe Griffin, an Iowa woman who thought her voting rights had been restored after she completed her probation for a non-violent drug conviction in 2013. She was charged in 2014 with voter fraud, but a jury found her not guilty. The lawsuit asks the court to “declare that the Iowa Constitution prohibits the disenfranchisement of people convicted of lower-level felonies (such as non-violent drug offenses); and seeks an injunction to stop the state from bringing criminal charges against Iowans with past lower-level felonies who register to vote.” A state judge dismissed the lawsuit last year, and said that it was up to the state’s Supreme Court to identify which felony convictions should lead to exclusion from voting.

The Iowa Supreme Court will hear the case on March 30th.

Alabama lawmakers seek to define “moral turpitude”

A committee of lawmakers, activists, and formerly incarcerated people is pushing for a clearer legal definition of “moral turpitude,” a change that would restore voting rights to certain people with felony convictions. Alabama law strips people of their right to vote if they commit a felony involving moral turpitude, but it’s often been left to the courts to decide what that means. People convicted in each of Alabama’s 67 counties might get 67 different answers as to whether their crime was one of moral turpitude, according to a recent NPR report. This is significant in a state where seven percent of adults cannot vote.

A bill that would list all the felonies that would disqualify a person from voting has made it out of committee and now moves to the House Rules Committee for debate.  The bill also requires that parole and probation officers communicate the process of rights restoration more effectively to individuals who have served their time and are living back in the community.

Hawaii bill would give some people in prison the right to vote

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would give certain individuals in prison the right to vote. The state constitution prohibits people with felony convictions from voting until they are released from prison. (Hawaiians placed on probation or parole are allowed to vote.) Lawmakers say the current law disproportionately affects Native Hawaiians, who represent about one-fourth of the state’s total population yet make up nearly 40 percent of incarcerated Hawaiians..

The original bill would have restored voting rights to all incarcerated individuals, but lawmakers changed it to only allow people incarcerated for low-level felony convictions the right to vote.  Maine and Vermont are the only states that have no restrictions on voting for their incarcerated residents.

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