It was to be expected that most Republicans and conservatives would be opposed to the Iowa Supreme Court restoring many felons’ voting rights. As Secretary of State, Republican Paul Pate finds himself defending the current law. And on Saturday at the Republicans’ district conventions around the state, he made incendiary, flame-throwing speeches over why he’s opposed to the voting rights expansion.
Since being elected to the Secretary of State office in 2014, Pate has kept a relatively moderate and low-key profile in the job. Gone were Matt Schultz’s taxpayer-funded crusade against voter fraud. Pate instead focused on an online voter registration project and a “Safe at Home” program that protects the addresses of victims of domestic violence.
But on Saturday he threw that even-keeled persona out the window as he launched a fear-mongering tirade against expanding voting rights, accusing “the left” of plotting to have rapists, murders and child molesters sway local elections.
“I want to let you know what the other side is up to,” Pate began his speech to the Republican 3rd District attendees in Creston. “We had a hearing before the Iowa Supreme Court last week during which the ACLU of Iowa and an out-of-state liberal special interest group came and argued before the Supreme Court that child molesters, rapists, murders who were all thrown behind bars should be able to vote in our elections.”
He was addressing the issue currently before the Supreme Court in the Griffin v. Pate case, where a woman once convicted of a felony is trying to have her voting rights automatically restored. The justices are trying to determine what the term “infamous crime” means, as that’s what the Iowa Constitution originally deemed to be disqualifying a citizen from voting in Iowa. The case stems from a decision in 2014 when the court determined “infamous crime” doesn’t cover certain misdemeanors, and opened the door to it not covering all felonies as well.
The ACLU and others are hoping the court will decide that it doesn’t apply to all felony convictions, which would open voting rights to be restored for tens of thousands of Iowans. Iowa is currently one of the most restrictive in the country when it comes to restoring voting rights.
“I think it’s been clear to most of us that people convicted of infamous crimes lose their voting privileges,” Pate argued in his speech. “That’s a fact. We have precedent dating back more than a hundred years as maintain that a felony is an infamous crime. All the towns you represent, go down to your main street, you ask someone, ‘Do you think a felon, someone who is a murderer, a rapist, a sexual assault person, is eligible?’ I think the answer is pretty clear.”
Obviously, not all felons fall under the category of having murdered, raped or sexually assaulted a person. Kelli Griffin, the woman in the Supreme Court case, committed a nonviolent felony offense for delivering drugs in 2008.
But those were the only type of felons that Pate singled out in his speech. And he accused those advocating for restoring voting rights in this manner to be part of a plot to help Democrats.
“The liberals want unelected judges, not we the people, to ignore the Iowa Constitution,” Pate said. “They want to allow all felons, even those behind bars for the most serious crimes imaginable to decide who our elected representatives should be. Think about the impact on local elections if we let that happen. If you look over at the 1st District, we have 1,100 inmates at the Anamosa state penitentiary. The 4th District has 1,200 inmates at Fort Dodge. And go down the list at Fort Madison and on down.”
“These people will be deciding who the next County Sheriff is, who should be the County Attorney, who should be the judges, the state representatives and on and on and on,” Pate continued. “That’s what the liberals want because they think it will help them win elections, and I need your help so that we can fight against that.”
Whether the decision will allow prisoners to vote at that location or to even be able to vote at all before being released is still up in the air.
Pate went on to argue that Iowans have an easy process currently to restore their rights by petitioning the Governor’s office. Reports in recent years show very few actually attempt that – Ryan Foley of the AP noted that only a handful even tried from 2011 to 2013.
“The left-wing doesn’t want there to be any process,” Pate suggested. “They want child molesters and they want rapists and murders to play a larger role in determining who our elected representatives are and who they’ll be.”
The ACLU was unimpressed with Pate’s attacks.
“The Secretary of State’s comments are obviously incendiary, and while he is improperly, and perhaps even unprecedentedly, attempting to try this case in the court of public opinion with mischaracterizations of the parties, the law, and the lawsuit, we will not take the bait and do the same. Instead, we respect the legal system and await the Court’s decision,” Jeremy Rosen, the executive director of the ACLU Iowa chapter, told Starting Line in response.
by Pat Rynard