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Iowa Governor Reveals Details Of Proposal To Restore Felon Voting Rights

kim reynolds
Katarina Sostaric
Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks at a news conference at the Iowa Capitol Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds released details Tuesday about a proposal to automatically restore voting rights to Iowans with felony convictions, a priority she announced last week in her Condition of the State address.

She is proposing a constitutional amendment that would automatically allow people with felony convictions to register to vote after they’ve completed their sentence. That includes completing probation or parole under the current definition.

If the amendment is passed by two consecutive general assemblies and approved by voters, Iowa would no longer be one of only two states in the country with a broad ban on felon voting rights.

“I have been very up front about some of the struggles that I have gone through as an individual,” Reynolds said at a Tuesday news conference. “I know that you can change when provided second chances, I believe it’s the right thing to do.”

But some Republican lawmakers have said they may want to include paying restitution and possibly a waiting period as requirements for felons to vote.

Reynolds said that will be part of the conversation as she works with lawmakers on the proposal. But in the current process for individuals to appeal to the governor to get their voting rights restored, they only have to show that they are making progress toward paying restitution.

“So I want to make sure that we’re not making it stricter than what we already have,” Reynolds said.

Some states permanently disenfranchise those who commit the most serious crimes, but Reynolds’ proposal would restore voting rights to anyone who has completed their sentence.

The earliest the issue would come before voters is 2022. Asked why she isn’t talking about issuing an executive order in the meantime, Reynolds said she wants the change to be permanent.

“Depending on who the governor is, we can switch back and forth, and I don’t think that’s the path we should take,” Reynolds said. “We have a process in place that allows Iowans to weigh in.”

Her predecessor, Republican Terry Branstad in 2011 reversed Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack’s 2005 action that automatically restored voting rights to people with felony convictions.

In the meantime, Reynolds said her office is working to streamline the current process for felons to get their voting rights restored by individually appealing to her.

As of Thursday morning, Reynolds’ proposal was not available in the form of filed legislation.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter