A recent study examines the effects of a 2005 Executive Order in Iowa that automatically restored voting rights to former felons who had completed their sentence. Before 2005, persons with felony convictions had to apply to the Governor to have their voting rights restored. Since the Executive Order was enacted, an estimated 100,000 Iowa ex-felons have had their voting rights restored.
Moreover, the analysis found that voter turnout among persons with felony convictions increased substantially following the policy change and that notification of voting rights restoration increased voter turnout among the released prisoner population by four to eight percentage points in the 2008 presidential election.
Unfortunately, in January 2011, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad issued his own Executive Order that rescinded the 2005 advancement, once again requiring ex-offenders to petition the Governor individually to have their voting rights restored. The study’s authors predict that this will inhibit turnout, noting that many persons with felony convictions would vote but are discouraged because of the “burdensome application process.”
This is particularly unfortunate because, in Iowa, African-Americans account for almost 25% of the prison population, although they make up only 2.8% of the state’s population. This can severely impact both the civic and economic health of the community, as well as the correctional system. Research has shown that restoring voting rights to ex-offenders can reduce the recidivism rates of released prisoners.