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State Government News

Reynolds Signs Executive Order Restoring Voting Rights To Iowans With Past Felony Convictions

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Charlie Neibergall/AP
/
AP
Iowa was the only state that still permanently disenfranchised all ex-felons until Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Wednesday restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of Iowans with past felony convictions ahead of the November election.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Wednesday restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of Iowans with past felony convictions ahead of the November election.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order Wednesday restoring voting rights to tens of thousands of Iowans with past felony convictions ahead of the November election.

"This is a cause on which so many Iowans have worked on for years," said Reynolds. "It boils down to our belief in redemption and second chances."

Iowa was the only state that still permanently disenfranchised all ex-felons unless they appealed directly to the governor.

Reynolds' order restores voting rights to ex-felons who have completed their sentence, including probation, parole, and special sentences that are associated with sex offenses. The order doesn't automatically restore voting rights to people convicted of murder, manslaughter, and other felony offenses included in Iowa's homicide code. Reynolds' order does not require payment of victim restitution or any other fines or fees as a condition of being able to vote.

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Charlie Neibergall/AP
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks after signing an executive order granting convicted felons the right to vote during a signing ceremony, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iowans who don't get their voting rights automatically restored upon completing their sentence can apply to the governor for individual rights restoration.

Estimates put the number of Iowans disenfranchised because of a past felony conviction between 50,000 and 60,000. The policy has had a racially disparate impact, banning nearly one in 10 Black Iowans of voting age from voting, according to a 2016 estimate from The Sentencing Project.

Des Moines Black Lives Matter activists have been pressuring Reynolds to restore felon voting rights since early June, protesting at the capitol, outside her house, and meeting with her twice to discuss the issue.

State Representative, Ako Abdul-Samad credited Reynolds for today's action. "Many hands have went into this. But it boils down to the governor taking a stand, standing up to a promise that she made," said Abdul-Samad.

Reynolds, a Republican, confirmed in mid-June she would sign an executive order restoring felon voting rights before the November election.

That promise came shortly after Republicans in the Iowa Senate again declined to pass Reynolds’ proposed constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to Iowans with past felony convictions, setting the effort to enact a more permanent policy back at least two years.

Reynolds said at the time she was considering an executive order even before the legislative session ended without progress on the constitutional amendment.

“Even if we were able to get that done, because of the timeline that it takes to actually pass two sessions and go to a vote of the people, I knew that we had a really important election coming up and so that was part of the discussion,” Reynolds said.

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Charlie Neibergall/AP
Betty Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP, speaks after Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order granting convicted felons the right to vote during a signing ceremony, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, at the Statehouse in Des Moines, Iowa.

Betty Andrews, president of Iowa-Nebraska NAACP State Conference of Branches, acknowledged the impermanence of the executive order but celebrated today's action. "I just have to say, 'Yeehaw, we did this!' and there is more to do, but this is a strong step in the right direction," said Andrews.

Reynolds isn’t the first Iowa governor to restore voting rights with an executive order.

In 2005, Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack restored voting rights to ex-felons. In 2011, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, while Reynolds was his lieutenant governor, reversed the order, requiring Iowans who completed their sentence after that date to appeal directly to the governor to be able to vote.

Reynolds said this is why she will continue pushing for a more permanent solution in the form of a constitutional amendment.

This story will be updated.