Quarterly Journal of Political Science > Vol 10 > Issue 1

The Politics of the Restoration of Ex-Felon Voting Rights: The Case of Iowa

Marc Meredith, Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania, USA, marcmere@sas.upenn.edu , Michael Morse, Department of Government, Harvard University, USA, michaellmorse@g.harvard.edu
Suggested Citation
Marc Meredith and Michael Morse (2015), "The Politics of the Restoration of Ex-Felon Voting Rights: The Case of Iowa", Quarterly Journal of Political Science: Vol. 10: No. 1, pp 41-100. http://dx.doi.org/10.1561/100.00013026

Publication Date: 20 May 2015
© 2015 M. Meredith and M. Morse
Voting behavior
Felon disenfranchisementVoting rightsTurnoutRegistration


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In this article:
1. Introduction 
2. Our Argument 
3. Research Design 
4. Data 
5. Iowa Results 
6. Maine and Rhode Island Results 
7. Discussion 


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.