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Gromotka: ‘Infamous Crime’ in Iowa

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | APRIL 21, 2014 5:00 AM

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State Senate hopeful Tony Bisignano will be allowed to continue running for office despite the fact that he has a OWI. On April 15, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that those charged with all types of misdemeanors should not be barred from running for office or voting. According to state law, only those charged with “Infamous Crimes” should lose their right to participate in the political process, which means that some felons could potentially reclaim the ability to vote. At least it seems that way.

The news of Bisignano’s go-ahead to run comes alongside news of the reconviction of eight Iowa felons, people who had served their time, charged with election misconduct for voting without clearance. As someone who believes in second chances, I find it obvious that the subjective terminology “Infamous Crime” poses some problems.

Technically speaking, “Infamous Crime” doesn’t have a concrete definition.  It’s been loosely described as an instance of particularly serious criminal activity. But while the state still abides by the term as if it’s subjective, it has — for all intents and purposes — chosen to equate “Infamous Crime” with almost any and all felonies. Under this accepted blanket pseudo-definition, those convicted of rape and murder share a boat with those convicted of arguably less heinous felonies such as second degree theft. 

Thankfully, because of this subjectivity, those convicted of less harmful felonies can have their voting rights reinstated by Gov. Terry Branstad. It’s a small flicker of hope for those who truly want to get their lives back on track and be assimilated into society. But the statistics show even more of an uphill battle for those well-intentioned individuals who have repaid their debt. Of the last 8,000 Iowans convicted of felonies who have served their sentences, fewer than 20 have had their political voice reinstated. It’s a huge discrepancy when you consider that most felonies probably aren’t “Infamous.”

Iowa is one of only four states that take this single-high-authority-figure-approval course of action when it comes to enfranchising felons. It’s a slow, arduous process, one that only adds to the difficulty of life after conviction. Upon exiting a crowded and dangerous prison system that provides little, if any, resources for rehabilitation, a felon will most likely struggle to find a job, let alone general acceptance in society. It’s no wonder that the percentage of repeat offenders is so high. Limiting their ability to be normal, their right to vote, is an extra, needless kick in the pants.

None of this is to say that criminals should get off the hook for what they’ve done. If people commit some kind of felony — rape, murder, theft, and, I’d also argue, drunk driving, but that’s a different discussion — they deserve to be convicted and punished appropriately. But there has to be a more organized way to invite convicts back to the community after they’ve served their time. We live in an era of computers, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to organize and keep track of what’s an “Infamous Crime.” The state should probably also do away with the term altogether. It’s overly subjective, and it sounds like something from Hollywood: “Coming this summer, ‘Infamous Crime, the Movie.” We can probably do better.


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