It's been a month since Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) issued an executive order giving tens of thousands of Hawkeye State felons the right to vote. Experts expect the change to benefit Democrats, at least at the margin, but say it is too early to know how it will echo in the perennial battleground state.
Vilsack issued the order July 4, restoring the vote to about 50,000 felons and ending what had been one of the nation's toughest disenfranchisement laws. The U.S. Constitution gives states the power to decide what, if any, restrictions to place on felons' balloting. Two states, Maine and Vermont, don't have any, allowing felons to cast votes from prison. Most states have restrictions based on a number of factors, such as whether someone is incarcerated and what crimes they've committed. Iowa was one of a handful of states that have lifetime bans, where felons could not vote unless their individual applications were approved by the state government.
Vilsack's new policy automatically restores the vote to those who have completed their sentences, paroles and probations -- a population that is disproportionately black and poor. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, potentially affecting the state's political balance. Bush won Iowa last year by 10,000 votes.
But the governor's order is being challenged in court, and the state's Republican House leader has said the chamber will take up the issue when it reconvenes in January.
Also uncertain is whether felons would use their new right in significant numbers. "It's a hard question to answer," said Ryan King, research associate at the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group that supports the order. He said many felons, along with many local election officials, are unaware or misinformed about the particulars of disenfranchisement laws.
The Iowa Republican Party, which opposed the governor's order, said the real winners are Vilsack, who has been eyeing a bid for the White House, and other Democrats trying to defend the state's presidential caucuses from complaints that the mostly white state is unrepresentative of the party or nation.
Voters Content With Clinton as Senator
There's a lot of good news for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in a new poll detailing New Yorkers' opinions of the lawmaker.
High approval rating? Check. Sixty-three percent told Quinnipiac University they like the job she's doing. Deserves to be reelected next year? Yep. Sixty-six percent agree. Big lead over possible Republican challengers? Sure. The survey gave her a lead of 63 percent to 29 percent over Jeanine Pirro and a similar advantage over Edward Cox, son-in-law of former president Richard M. Nixon.
But the numbers also reveal that she has one awkward problem: A clear majority of her constituents want Clinton to pledge to serve a full six-year term. Sixty percent -- including 59 percent of Democrats -- said they want her to promise to serve a complete term. Such a promise would not be compatible with what many people in her camp expect will be a race for the presidency in 2008.
Will she make that commitment? "Senator Clinton has repeatedly said that her sole focus is on serving the people of New York and the 2006 race," her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, said in a statement.
A New Spokesman for the Other Clinton
Speaking of the Clintons . . . the senator's husband is getting a new spokesman. Jim Kennedy, who has served as the former president's representative since 2002, is leaving to become a spokesman for Sony Pictures Entertainment. He will be replaced by Jay Carson, who previously worked as a spokesman for former senator Thomas A. Daschle and also for Howard Dean's presidential campaign.