Pay Those Bills On Time Or Forfeit Right To Vote

If the 2012 general election winds up as a close GOP win, the odds are very high that the national GOP drive to restrict the franchise will deserve significant credit or blame. You tend to think, quite rightly, of Florida as Ground zero for voter suppression, given that state’s decentralized voter administration system and the zest the state’s Republicans have shown for stealing elections in the name of “preventing” stolen elections. But it’s actually staid and civil Iowa that is exhibiting one of the boldest exercises in tilting the ballot box, via Gov. Terry Branstad’s determination to reduce the restoration of voting rights for ex-felons to a number closely approximating zero. The AP’s Ryan Foley has the story:

Republican Gov. Terry Branstad has made Iowa one of the most difficult states in the nation for felons to vote, with an executive order he issued last year already having disenfranchised thousands of people, a review by The Associated Press shows.

On the day he took office, Branstad signed an order reversing a six-year policy started under Democrat Tom Vilsack in which felons automatically regained their voting rights once they were discharged from state supervision. The move flew in the face of a nationwide trend to make voting easier for felons, making Iowa one of four states where felons must apply to the governor to have voting rights restored. Branstad’s new process requires applicants to submit a credit report, a provision critics call inappropriate and unique among states.

Since then, 8,000 felons in Iowa have finished their prison sentences or been released from community supervision, but less than a dozen have successfully navigated the process of applying to get their citizenship rights back, according to public records obtained by the AP.

A credit report to regain the right to vote? That’s about the most revealing reflection of latter-day Republican values I’ve seen in a while. As is this quote:

The state’s new top elections official, Republican Secretary of State Matt Schultz, urged Branstad to reinstate the application process to “send a message to Iowa’s voters that their voting privilege is sacred and will not be compromised.”

Voting’s a “privilege,” not a right, you see. There’s not a question in my mind that these people would reinstitute poll taxes if the courts and Grover Norquist would let them.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.