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Here’s the New Application that Former Inmates Need to Get Back the Vote in Iowa

How the state defines “simple.”

Iowa is one of three states in which those with felony convictions are barred for life from voting, unless they get explicit permission from state officials. Earlier this week, the state’s Republican Governor, Terry Branstad, made that process marginally easier with a new “streamlined” version of the required application. The old form — also titled “Streamlined Application for Restoration of Citizenship Rights” — had 29 questions and more than 20 sub-questions. Applicants were asked the name and current address of their prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, and the judge who heard their case. They were asked about child support, alimony, and their federal and state income tax returns.

The new form has 13 questions and about a dozen sub-questions and primarily asks about the crime and related issues. “It’s a very very simple process,” says Ben Hammes, a spokesman for Governor Branstad.

You be the judge. In addition to the form itself, applicants must obtain proof of payment of fines and fees from the Iowa Courts Online, then run a criminal background check from the Iowa Department of Criminal Investigations (each check costs $15 and also requires a separate “Criminal History Record Check Billing Form”), then gather all the materials together and send the package in. An earlier version of the form also required a credit check.

Case in Point

An examination of a single case that sheds light on the criminal justice system

There are no published rules or criteria that applicants must meet for their rights to be restored, but Hammes said Branstad won’t approve an application unless all court costs, fees, and restitution are paid in full. “To automatically restore the right to vote would damage the balance between the rights and responsibilities of citizenship,” he said.

Hammes said all 114 of the applications the Governor has received since taking office in 2011 have been approved. Approximately 57,000 Iowans are barred from voting because of a felony conviction.

The Iowa Supreme Court is currently considering a case that could automatically restore their voting rights. That case was brought by a suburban mother of four prosecuted for voter fraud when she voted in a 2013 election after completing five years’ probation on a drug charge.