The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

State News

April 11, 2014

Iowa finds 12 votes were wrongly rejected in 2012

IOWA CITY — At least 12 Iowa residents wrongly had their ballots rejected in the 2012 presidential election because of inaccuracies in the state's list of ineligible felons, a review found Friday.

Secretary of State Matt Schultz announced that nine additional cases of improper disenfranchisement were found during a review launched after it was reported in January that three voters were disenfranchised because of bureaucratic mistakes.

The new cases include people who weren't felons but were wrongly included on the list and former offenders who had their voting rights restored and should have been removed.

The announcement is a potential embarrassment for Schultz, a Republican who is running for Congress and has made fighting voter fraud the focus of his tenure. His office funded a controversial $280,000 investigation that has led to felony charges against several people who are accused of illegally voting as felons.

Many of them say they were confused by policy changes on how and when former offenders have their voting rights restored, and believed they could vote. Last month, a jury took less than 40 minutes to acquit the first person to contest such a charge after concluding she had no criminal intent.

Friday's announcement shows that elections and court officials have struggled to track voter eligibility due to record-keeping errors.

Under Iowa's constitution, anyone convicted of an "infamous crime" loses the right to vote and hold office until restored by the governor. Everyone agrees that includes felons, but Iowa's top lawyers disagree on whether people convicted of aggravated misdemeanors are affected. The Iowa Supreme Court is weighing that question.

Ex-offenders long had to apply to the governor to receive voting rights back. Then-Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack changed that policy, signing a 2005 executive order that restored voting rights for thousands who'd completed their sentences. Under state policy from 2005 to 2011, offenders automatically had their rights restored when they left state supervision. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad rescinded that policy in 2011, requiring ex-offenders to complete a lengthy application process for restoration, which only a few dozen have done.

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