The Politics of the Restoration of Ex-Felon Voting Rights: The Case of Iowa
Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Vol. 10, pp. 41-100, 2015
60 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2021
Date Written: May 2015
We investigate how the restoration of voting rights affects the political participation of ex-felons. Our primary analysis uses unique administrative data from Iowa, which changed how ex-felons restore their voting rights in both 2005 and 2011. Prior to 2005, ex-felons had to apply to the governor to restore their voting rights. We show that ex-felon turnout increased after Iowa began to automatically restore these rights. Consistent with misinformation being a significant barrier to ex-felons’ political participation, ex-felons were more likely to vote if they were informed about this policy change. The application requirement was re-instated for ex- felons discharged since 2011 and we show that this reduced their 2012 presidential election turnout. We conclude by comparing the actual turnout rate of recently discharged ex-felons in Iowa, Maine, and Rhode Island to the turnout rate that Uggen and Manza’s (2002) method predicts. This comparison suggests that although restoration procedures can substantively affect ex-felon turnout, restoration procedures are not the only reason why ex-felons vote less often than observably similar non-felons.
Keywords: felon disenfranchisement, voting rights, empirical legal studies
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