DES MOINES — Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday defended the state rule that requires convicted felons to apply to him in order to have their voting rights restored.
A recent Iowa Supreme Court ruling upheld the policy.
Branstad also announced his office has streamlined the petition for convicted felons who apply to have gun rights restored; similar changes were made earlier this year to the application for the restoration of voting rights.
Iowa is one of eight states in which convicted felons must have voting rights restored by the governor or the courts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Other states restore voting rights upon completion of the sentence or do not revoke voting rights.
Iowa’s rule was challenged in court by voting rights groups but upheld by the Iowa Supreme court in a 4-3 ruling June 30.
Branstad called voting “a privilege,” and said that privilege must balance a person’s rights and responsibilities.
“Restoring voting rights to Iowans who have committed felonies is something that I take very seriously as governor,” Branstad said. “To automatically restore the right to vote without requiring the completion of the responsibilities associated with the criminal conviction would severely damage the balance of rights and responsibilities that we all have as citizens.”
Critics of the rule say it places undue stress on a person who has paid his or her debt to society, and requiring convicted felons to pay all court costs before having voting rights restored unfairly punishes low-income residents.
Branstad said the application is simple and does not require a lawyer, and paying court costs is a part of the punishment that must be completed.
Branstad said there are more than $699 million in unpaid fines and court costs in Iowa.
Earlier this year Branstad’s office streamlined the application for the restoration of voting rights, reducing from 29 to 13 the number of questions on the one-page form.
Branstad announced a similar tweak that reduces from 43 to 29 the number of questions on the application to have an individual’s gun possession rights or to be pardoned.
Branstad insisted the process remains thorough. Branstad said he rules out those who committed violent crimes, and all applicants undergo a criminal background check through the state Division of Criminal Investigation.
Branstad said he also personally interviews any individual deemed to be a good candidate for having firearms rights restored or for a pardon.