In Iowa, Paying Your Debt to Society Isn’t Quite Enough

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ldcross/2246225674/" target="_Denise Cross">eschipul</a>/Flickr

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Via Ed Kilgore, we learn today that voter suppression is alive and well in Iowa. On his first day in office after winning the 2010 election, Gov. Terry Branstad reinstituted a long and laborious process that prevents most released felons from voting:

Henry Straight, who wants to serve on the town council in the tiny western Iowa community of Arthur, is among those whose paperwork wasn’t complete. Straight can’t vote or hold office because as a teenager in Wisconsin in the 1980s, he was convicted of stealing a pop machine and fleeing while on bond.

Straight spent a year on the effort and hired a lawyer for $500 to help. Yet he was notified by the governor’s office last month that he hadn’t submitted a full credit report, only a summary, or documentation showing he had paid off decades-old court costs. They make the process just about impossible,” said Straight, 40, a truck driver. “I hired a lawyer to navigate it for me and I still got rejected. Isn’t that amazing?”

Iowa’s process also includes a 31-question application that asks for information such as the address of the judge who handled the conviction. Felons also must supply a criminal history report, which takes weeks and costs $15. Then the review can take up to six months.

Felons, of course, tend to be poorer, blacker, and younger than the general population, which means they’re more likely to vote for Democrats than the general population. So who cares if they’ve paid their debt to society? A tendency to vote for Democrats is mighty suspicious behavior all on its own, no? Surely anyone foolish enough to belong to one or more of these demographic groups should expect to have a hard time voting whenever a Republican machine is in charge.

Ed adds this: “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….There’s not a question in my mind that these people would reinstitute poll taxes if the courts and Grover Norquist would let them.”

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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