The Iowa Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday upheld [opinion, PDF] a state law forbidding convicted felons from voting, even after serving their sentences. The American Civil Liberties Union [official website] brought suit in Griffin v. Pate [case file] on behalf of Kelli Jo Griffin, who was convicted of a non-violent drug offense, arguing that the “infamous crimes” standard used to restrict voting violates the Iowa Constitution. After reviewing the history of crimes of infamy in the state, the court upheld the provision and noted the potential for discriminatory impact.
[W]e acknowledge that voter disqualification based on criminal convictions has a disproportionate impact on voting rights of African Americans and perhaps other groups in society. Yet this outcome is tied to our criminal justice system as a whole and is not isolated to the use of the infamous-crime standard. Racial disparity must be eliminated in society, but its unwanted presence does not necessarily undermine the concept or current definition of infamous crime as a standard for voter disqualification. Moreover, no evidence suggests this state adopted or maintained infamy to discriminate against minority groups.
The suit comes after a change in administration switched the law from granting automatic restoration of a felon’s voting rights to requiring them to undergo a rigorous application process.
Voting rights have been the subject of numerous legal challenges across the US, particularly in a presidential election year. Earlier this month, Judicial Watch [advocacy website] filed a lawsuit challenging an executive order by Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe restoring the voting rights of certain felons [JURIST report]. Last month a federal judge ruled that Ohio’s elimination of the state’s early in-person voting [JURIST report] was unconstitutional and in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Earlier in May a federal judge ruled that Virginia’s voter identification law, which requires that voters have a valid form of ID either before voting or within three days after voting, is constitutional [JURIST report]. Also in May a federal judge ruled that Kansas cannot require voters to provide proof of citizenship [JURIST report] when registering to vote. In April a federal judge upheld [JURIST report] North Carolina’s voter ID law. In February the Maryland Senate overrode a veto by Governor Larry Hogan to pass a bill that will allow felons to vote [JURIST report] before they complete parole or probation.