Iowa Supreme Court: Felons Can’t Vote In Iowa — ACLU Outraged By Decision

A divided Iowa Supreme Court came to the conclusion that Iowa felons can’t vote unless those rights are restored by Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad.

The Chicago Daily Law Bulletin reports that Iowa felons can’t vote if the 4-3 decision stands which will bar them from voting for life, no matter how reformed they are after their felony offense.

Iowa’s decision stating that felons can’t vote upholds the state’s strong reputation for being one of the most restrictive in voting by felons.


As the court makes its ruling, stripping felon’s right to vote in Iowa, Democrats and civil liberties advocates were outraged at the court’s decision. This is the same court which Democrats have held in high regard for its landmark decision on legalizing gay marriage — six years before it was legalized everywhere in the U.S.

An attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Julie Ebenstein, expressed her discontent with the Iowa Supreme Court saying that felons can’t vote,

“This ruling means that Iowa will continue to serve as a notorious outlier when it comes to restricting people’s right to vote.”

Iowa’s top elections official, Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, said that there was nothing wrong with the Iowa Supreme Court ruling that felons can’t vote and the decision was in line with the constitution and state law.

Felons had long been barred from voting and holding public office, although not made official by the court.

According to the Iowa Constitution, in 1857 it was declared that “no person convicted of any infamous crime shall be entitled to the privilege of an elector,” i.e. “felons can’t vote.”

The ACLU brought up the case of Kelli Jo Griffin, who was convicted of a non-violent drug offense. They argued that Griffin was not convicted of an infamous crime, therefore she should not be disenfranchised.

Her attorneys also urged the court to rule that the only people who should be disenfranchised from voting are those who commit crimes against democratic governance.


For example, crimes of treason or corruption should automatically disqualify a candidate from voting or holding any sort of governing office.

Chief Justice Mark Cady actually endorsed the proposal in 2014. However, he disavowed that ruling in Thursday’s decision in the majority justice rule declaring that felons can’t vote.

Cady wrote that in retrospect, he now disagrees with his former decision claiming that there was not enough quantitative evidence and statistics for backing up the decision.

He also argues that the constitution regards all felonies as infamous, thus claiming that felons can’t vote is the thereby sticking to the constitution as it always should have been.

In addition, in 1994 Iowa lawmakers passed a law that also defined all felonies as infamous crimes. The law has been untouched ever since. Cady wrote, “In this case, the legislative judgment was clearly expressed, and there is no scientific evidence or facts to undermine that judgment.”

Since the decision to not let Iowa felons vote involves the Iowa Constitution and not the U.S. Constitution, it cannot be appealed at the state level.

The justices who voted on the losing side — not in favor of the ruling claiming that felons can’t vote — said that the ruling would perpetuate a system that treats felons as second-class citizens.

The ruling would also disproportionately limit the political power of the state’s already disenfranchised black population.

Justice Brent Appel wrote,

“The decision will disqualify thousands of Iowans from exercising the fundamental right to vote after they have fully satisfied their criminal sentences, even without a showing of nexus of the crime to the integrity of the electoral process.”

In the immediate aftermath of the Iowa Supreme Court decision, more than 56,000 felons currently can’t vote, being automatically disqualified.

Iowa is expected to be a major swing state come November in the presidential election. Civil liberties advocates had hoped the case would go in their favor which would have granted most felons the opportunity to vote; instead the adverse effect is true — they can’t.

Now Iowa, Florida, and Kentucky are the only three where felons can’t vote for life, unless overturned by the respective state’s governor.

What do you think of Iowa deciding that felons can’t vote?

[Photo by Shutterstock]