Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I can almost reach my rights ...

The ability to vote is a cornerstone of the freedoms that make America great. Sometimes, though, those freedoms get out of hand. Take Iowa, for example. For more than 15 years, people convicted of a felony or an aggravated misdemeanor who have already finished serving their time in prison or jail have been automatically granted the right to vote. And for who knows how long, registered voters have been able to show up at the polls, sign in and cast a ballott without ever having to show a photo ID. It's maybe never been required, if you can believe that. But don't worry. Gov. Terry Branstad has already rescinded the executive order that allowed ex-cons to automatically vote and hold office once they got out of prison. Now, after they pay any fines and restitution, they just have to go through the simple process of petitioning the governor to regain those rights. It only takes three to six months, if they ever pull things together enough to take care of it. And Republicans with their new House majority are pushing legislation that would require every single person to show a photo identification in order to vote. That's pretty easy for those of us with a driver's license. Unfortunately, a chunk of the population that skews heavily towards the poor, disabled, racial minorities and elderly doesn't have a state-issued photo ID. The proposal would remove cost barriers that might stand in the way of some getting an ID. That's great, if they ever pull things together enough to take care of it. In both cases, the ability to vote will remain just out of reach for at least a segment of those affected. Branstad and GOP legislators treat voting like a sacred priviledge that's in danger of being desecrated. There's one problem with that: Voting is not a priviledge --- it's a right that belongs to all citizens. What's more, they have no proof of any systemic "desecration" that would warrant tightening voting rights. There is no widespread voter fraud in Iowa. A concern that felons can begin voting before paying all the fines or restitution associated with their conviction can be addressed without petitioning the governor. Just wait until they finish paying those before their rights are automatically restored. Read views for and against Branstad's action on the felon voting rights.

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