Iowa’s felon voting ban is rejecting legitimate voters’ ballots

© Copyright 2019, Des Moines Register and Tribune Co.

Jessica Bensley can legally carry a pistol in public — partially because she has never been convicted of a felony.

But last yr, Bensley by some means ended up on Iowa’s felon record. As a result of Iowa regulation does not permit felons to vote, the Polk County Auditor’s Workplace, in flip, rejected the poll she forged in November.

Iowa’s mistake value Bensley her constitutional proper to vote. And she or he wasn’t the one one.

A Des Moines Register investigation of six counties found that the ballots of more than two-dozen voters have been wrongly rejected since 2017 — together with 20 in November’s midterm elections — as a result of their names mistakenly appeared on the felon listing the state circulates to county officers.

Iowa maintains the listing to enforce one of many nation’s most restrictive bans on felon voting rights — completely barring felons from voting until they successfully petition the governor or president to restore their rights.

But the Register’s investigation exhibits that the state’s process for implementing its felon ban is significantly flawed — and officers have recognized about systemic inaccuracies in its database of roughly 69,000 banned felons since at the least 2012.

Emails show that state and county officers have blamed each other for failing to correctly vet the felon listing to ensure someone’s voting rights aren’t wrongly denied, the Register discovered.

In June 2016, the Iowa secretary of state cross-checked felons within the state’s “I-VOTERS” database, which incorporates the names of registered voters, and “appropriately restored” 2,591 data — putting these Iowans back on the voting rolls, an e-mail to county auditors exhibits.

Jessica Bensley turned conscious her identify was on the state’s felon record when Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald notified her that her Nov. 6, 2018, vote was rejected.
(Photograph: Brian Powers/The Register)

Gov. Kim Reynolds has indicated she might be willing to support automatically restoring voting rights to felons who complete the terms of their sentence, a move that could re-enfranchise more than 50,000 Iowans and potentially reduce the errors that are denying some legal voters their right to have their ballot counted.

Bensley — who became aware her name was on the state’s felon list when Polk County Auditor Jamie Fitzgerald notified her Nov. 20 that her Nov. 6 vote was rejected — spent hours trying to resolve the error.

She said the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office, which provides the felon list to local auditors, never gave her a reason why her name was added to the list in August.

“Why was I not contacted telling me my voter’s rights were being taken away?” Bensley asked, noting that if she were a felon she could have faced criminal charges for voting.

Groups such as the League of Women Voters of Iowa, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, already critical of Iowa’s felon voting restrictions, called the Register’s findings further evidence of a broken and punitive…

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