Secy. Pate to analyze felony database, but felons still face barriers to get voting rights back

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PALO, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate said he will be working to clean up the state’s felony database to make sure that felons who can vote are allowed to.

It's not easy for convicted felons to get their rght's to vote and hold public office reinstated

The database has over 90,000 files. Pate said his office plans to review everyone one of them. Currently, the Iowa constitution bars felons from voting or holding public office and getting those rights back isn’t an easy process.

“It’s embarrassing,” Eric Van Kerckhove said.

Van Kerckhove is the new sitting mayor of Palo, but before he started his public service job, he served a 90-day federal sentence. Van Kerckhove was charged with lying to a federal agent and buying illegal human growth hormones.

“I was a scared 25-year-old kid who had the FBI come talk to him,” Van Kerckhove said. “I didn’t want to rat out my buddies and instead of getting representation, I lied.”

Van Kerckhove said the process to get his rights back too about four to six weeks for all of the paperwork to be approved. In 2016, he again lost his right to vote and run for public office but said it wasn’t his fault.

“Some of the paperwork was lost by the Linn County Auditor’s Office,” Van Kerckhove said. “Luckily I kept the paperwork and was able to get my rights back again.

“The Linn County Auditor’s Office did not lose Mr. Van Kerckhove’s paperwork," said Linn County Auditor Joel Miller. "The Auditor’s Office is not the custodian of felon records. Instead, the Secretary of State’s Office sent incorrect information to the Auditor’s Office, which directed the Auditor’s Office to terminate Mr. Van Kerckhove’s voting rights."

Gov. Kim Reynolds is hoping to make changes that will give people like Van Kerckhove another shot.

“I’m a big believer in second chances,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds is proposing a change to the Iowa constitution and supports a faster application process for felons to not only vote but find work and get back into the community.

“It’s part of acclimating back into society,” Reynolds said.

Being able to serve his community and his past experiences give Van Kerckhove a unique perspective.

“Your past doesn’t have to define your future,” Van Kerckhove said. “I understand the consequences of breaking the law much better than somebody that’s never broken the law so I think it gives me that unique perspective in the seat.”

Pate said his team will get through all of the databases before the 2020 election. Governor Reynolds said she will discuss more details on her plans to make a fast track for felons to get their rights back at the State of the State address.