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Iowa Supreme Court upholds rule against felons voting

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Iowa’s Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, on Thursday upheld the state’s ban on voting for people with felony convictions, dismissing a claim from a woman who sued to be able to vote despite a conviction for a drug crime.

The majority opinion written by Chief Justice Mark Cady said in part, “we conclude our constitution permits persons convicted of a felony to be disqualified from voting in Iowa until pardoned or otherwise restored to the rights of citizenship.”

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The ruling bucks a trend around the country of restoration of voting rights that has drawn support from both Democrats and Republicans as a way to improve prisoners’ reintegration into society.

Wyoming, California and other states have recently restored voting rights to felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. Iowa, Kentucky and Florida have the country’s harshest rules, prohibiting all former felons from voting unless they secure an exemption from the governor.

The Iowa Supreme Court justices said they were interpreting the state constitution, which says people convicted of an “infamous crime” should be disqualified from voting.

“This conclusion is not to say the infamous-crime provision of our constitution would not accommodate a different meaning in the future. A different meaning, however, is not for us to determine in this case. A new definition will be up to the future evolution of our understanding of voter disqualification as a society, revealed through the voices of our democracy,” the ruling said.

The ruling responds to a lawsuit filed by Kelli Jo Griffin, who was convicted in 2008 for distribution of cocaine, a class-C felony in Iowa. She was sentenced to probation, which she completed on 2013.

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She registered to vote in 2013 and voted that November, but her ballot was rejected due to her felony conviction. She filed suit in 2014 against the governor and the secretary of state, asking the courts to declare that hers was not the type of conviction that disqualified a person from voting.

A district court rejected her claim, and the case went to the Supreme Court when Griffin asked for constitutional review.

The three dissenting justices wrote in their minority opinions that Griffin’s crime did not fit the state constitution’s definition of an infamous crime.

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Laws governing felons’ voting rights range considerably in the United States. Maine and Vermont allow prison inmates to vote, while Iowa and a handful of others have a lifetime ban on voting by convicted felons.

(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Elections 2016

Vietnamese women strive to clear war-era mines

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Inching across a field littered with Vietnam war-era bombs, Ngoc leads an all-women demining team clearing unexploded ordnance that has killed tens of thousands of people -- including her uncle.

"He died in an explosion. I was haunted by memories of him," Le Thi Bich Ngoc tells AFP as she oversees the controlled detonation of a cluster bomb found in a sealed-off site in central Quang Tri province.

More than 6.1 million hectares of land in Vietnam remain blanketed by unexploded munitions -- mainly dropped by US bombers -- decades after the war ended in 1975.

At least 40,000 Vietnamese have since died in related accidents. Victims are often farmers who accidentally trigger explosions, people salvaging scrap metal, or children who mistake bomblets for toys.

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Elections 2016

Chief Justice John Roberts issues New Year’s Eve warning to stand up for democracy

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In a progressive welcoming move, Chief Justice John Roberts issued his New Year's Eve annual report urging his fellow federal judges to stand up for democracy.

"In our age, when social media can instantly spread rumor and false information on a grand scale, the public's need to understand our government, and the protections it provides, is ever more vital," he wrote. "We should celebrate our strong and independent judiciary, a key source of national unity and stability."

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Trump’s next 100 days will dictate whether he can be re-elected or not — here’s why

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According to CNN pollster-in-residence Harry Enten, Donald Trump's next 100 days -- which could include an impeachment trial in the Senate -- will hold the key to whether he will remain president in 2020.

As Eten explains in a column for CNN, "His [Trump's] approval rating has been consistently low during his first term. Yet his supporters could always point out that approval ratings before an election year have not historically been correlated with reelection success. But by mid-March of an election year, approval ratings, though, become more predictive. Presidents with low approval ratings in mid-March of an election year tend to lose, while those with strong approval ratings tend to win in blowouts and those with middling approval ratings usually win by small margins."

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