The celerity or alacrity with which Governor Terry Branstad rescinded former Governor Chet Culver’s restoration of voting rights for felons on his inaugural day, demonstrates both fear and animus on the part of the new Governor and his henchmen, namely Secretary of State Albrecht, that defy levelheaded rationality. The adverse racial impact of this rescission is unconscionable—given that Iowa is the top state that disproportionately incarcerates African-Americans and that a quarter of the felons in the state are African-American! Based on these facts alone, the action by Branstad is racist and, thereby, unconstitutional.
Of course, racial discrimination’s burden of proof is made so deliberately insurmountable, that it is ostensibly ridiculous even to make the effort. Perhaps, something can be said about the speed of his action that calls into question his intentions; however, racial discrimination does not singularly point to a person, but, rather, to structures, processes, and policies that have racially disparate effects. In other words, whether or not Branstad is a racist is beside the point; what matters is whether the disproportionate number of ex-felons who will not be able to vote is against the state’s compelling interests with regard to race. The racial impact of his rescissory action is clearly egregious and the style likewise malevolent, but in the final analysis, opponents will have to hang their hat, so to speak, on the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
When a citizen is unable to vote, especially one who is a member of an underrepresented category of people, that person is denied equal protection, fairness, and equity under the law—which breaches the Fourteenth Amendment. Because one has committed a felony should not mean that person should lose any citizenship rights. A criminal act has little to do with civil liberties and even less to do with suffrage. The withdrawal of the franchise is a deliberate attempt to wield more power by allowing persons characterized as evil to be further humiliated and treated as less than human beings. No one should be allowed to forfeit the right to vote regardless of the heinousness of the crime committed, for it removes another protection from a full-fledged citizen of the United States. It flies in the face of the letter and spirit of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits the denial of the vote from anyone who is a citizen, with special reference to race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Clearly, the denial to ex-felons in Iowa violates this law, for a disproportion of ex-felons is African American! In addition, the stricture that one can only petition for the return of the franchise after all fines and penalties are paid amounts to levying a kind of poll tax upon those who are financially strapped already. Certainly, anything like a poll tax is verboten according to this amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In terms of its racial dimensions, the forfeiture of the ballot for felons and ex-felons disallows them a very significant ally in the battle against further dehumanization. Felons can hardly obtain gainful employment and a decent place to live because they are permanently stigmatized. Denying the right to vote adds insult to injury and relegates them to second class citizenship reminiscent of the early three-fifths rule and the infamous Dred Scott decision. Fortunately, well-meaning people over the past century and a half have recognized the folly of such policies and procedures. Notwithstanding this realization, we find ourselves still battling against the unspeakable elephant in the room, namely racism.
I call upon all people of good will who enjoy representative democracy openly and in unison to demand Branstad reverse his racially tendentious rescission with all deliberate speed!