Iowa Secretary of State Failing to Provide for Notification to Wrongfully Disenfranchised Iowans

Affiliate: ACLU of Iowa
February 24, 2020 4:00 pm

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The ACLU of Iowa has growing concerns that many Iowans may wrongly think that they can’t vote. The concerns come after Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate recently adopted new rules to deal with Iowa’s highly flawed list of people who allegedly can’t vote because of a felony conviction. That list has more than 100,000 entries.

“A key problem is that the Iowa Secretary of State is failing to provide notification to wrongly disenfranchised Iowans,” said ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer.

“The Secretary of State is not notifying people who—wrongly—have been on the state’s list of people who cannot vote because of a felony conviction. These are people who are actually able to vote, but who may have been told in the past they couldn’t. We’re concerned that they won’t find out in time, before the November elections, that they can indeed vote.”

On February 12, Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate issued an administrative rule about what procedures will apply to the creation and maintenance of a new list of people disqualified because of a felony conviction. The state scrapped the existing list, which has about 100,000 entries, due to numerous errors.

Recent media reports have highlighted the list’s many errors, which listed, among others, the Des Moines Police Department and “the State of Iowa” as ineligible to vote because of a felony conviction. The list also wrongly included a number of Iowans, including the mayor of Palo, Iowa, who indeed were qualified to vote under the state constitution but were put on the list as ineligible to vote. That error meant they were likely to be wrongfully blocked from registering to vote or from actually voting.

The felony disenfranchisement list was created to accurately record who in Iowa cannot vote because of a felony conviction. The list is incorporated into I-Voters, the system that auditors use to verify that people are eligible to vote.

Last November, Pate initially announced that his office would work through and “correct” the list. But in January of this year, acknowledging the list was too flawed to merely correct, the list was taken down altogether to be “rebuilt.”

Voting rights advocacy groups like the ACLU had hoped that Pate’s final administrative rule would outline meaningful steps to address the damage that has been done with the error-riddled list.

A number of important positive steps were taken, but two key problems remain with the list:

  1. The Secretary of State still has not clearly spelled out processes and responsibilities between the Secretary of State’s office and the Iowa Judicial Branch for checking the accuracy of the list.
  2. There is no provision for contacting people who the Secretary of State’s office knows were incorrectly on the felony disenfranchisement list. The state should be notifying them that they are actually eligible to register to vote.

In addition, people who have been wrongly disenfranchised because they were placed on the list in error, despite not having been convicted of a felony in the first place, or despite having their right to vote restored already, may have legal claims against the state for violating their voting rights.

For people who are confused and have questions about whether they can vote following a criminal conviction or charge, the ACLU has created an easy-to-use three-page guide that explains Iowa voting laws for those with a criminal conviction. The guide is designed to help people determine if they can vote currently and if not, how they can get their voting eligibility restored. View it here.

People who have questions can contact the ACLU of Iowa at

The final adopted state rule is here.

Written comments from the ACLU submitted to the Secretary of State regarding the rules can be found here.

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