IOWA CITY - An Iowa prosecutor said she will pursue pending cases against convicted felons accused of voting illegally in 2012 despite a new Iowa Supreme Court ruling that makes it unclear whether they lost their voting rights in the first place.
Critics such as the American Civil Liberties Union say the cases are on shaky ground following Tuesday's ruling in which justices failed to agree on which crimes disenfranchise offenders. They say the uncertainty will make it more difficult for prosecutors to prove intent and open the door for constitutional challenges.
But Black Hawk County prosecutor Linda Fangman downplayed the ruling's impact Thursday, saying the cases against six ex-felons she's prosecuting would "proceed as is." Pre-trial conferences were held Friday.
A seventh, Michelle Bruno, filed notice April 4 that she intended to plead guilty at a hearing set for Monday, but court officials postponed the case Friday. Defense attorney Tammy Banning declined comment on the reason for the delay.
Iowa justices agreed 5-1 that aggravated misdemeanor crimes do not disenfranchise offenders, overturning a century of court precedent. But they split 3-3 on whether all felonies, or just an undefined number that are linked to election integrity, should disqualify offenders.
The ruling threw into doubt one of the nation's strictest policies for disenfranchising convicts.
Voting rights groups and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have criticized Iowa's policy as too harsh because, under Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, it has become one of four states to require former felons to apply to the governor to have voting rights restored, a process few complete. An investigation championed by Iowa's Republican elections administrator has led to charges against several former offenders who voted.
The seven Waterloo residents were charged with registering and voting in the 2012 presidential election despite having committed prior felonies. Their status as ineligible felons wasn't caught because workers at their polling places, unlike others in the county, didn't have electronic systems that would identify offenders. Fifteen felons were identified at other precincts and were not prosecuted.
In Fairfield, Jefferson County Attorney Timothy Dille said Friday he hasn't decided whether to continue the 16-month-old case against Cheri Rupe, which is scheduled for trial next month. Like the others, she's charged with election misconduct, which carries up to five years in prison.