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Reynolds Simplifies Felon Voting Rights Restoration While Advocating For Constitutional Amendment

felon voting application
John Pemble
IPR file
Gov. Kim Reynolds released a new, one-page application for Iowans with felony convictions to submit to get their voting rights back Tuesday, March 12, 2019.

Iowans with felony convictions will receive invitations from Gov. Kim Reynolds to apply to get their voting rights restored upon release from prison or completion of probation or parole in a simplified process.

Reynolds announced Tuesday her office is streamlining and expediting the process for ex-felons to apply to get their voting rights restored as she continues to advocate for a constitutional amendment to automatically restore those rights.

“In in the interim, we need to do everything we can to make sure that we’re making it as simple as possible for them to realize what the steps are to get the opportunity back to vote,” Reynolds said.

The new application is shorter, does not require additional documentation, and will be provided to offenders when they complete their sentence. Reynolds’ office has also waived the $15 fee for a background check, and has set a goal of considering applications within one month of receiving them.

Reynolds said she had restored voting rights to 122 Iowans as of Tuesday morning. She said she has started calling to congratulate them and get feedback, and she’s encouraging lawmakers to do the same.

“We can make the numbers available if they would like the opportunity to call an individual and just hear firsthand the gratitude they express for having the right to once again vote, the dignity it brings back to them, to help them feel that they are a contributing member to society,” Reynolds said.

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews said at the Tuesday press conference this is a step in the right direction, and she appreciates these changes.

“But that doesn’t also mean that we are not very much interested in an executive order for voting because we do think that’s important in the interim,” Andrews said.

Andrews wants Reynolds to issue an executive order to automatically restore voting rights to ex-felons. But Reynolds said that might take the pressure off of lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment, which would be much more permanent than an executive order that could be reversed by the next governor.

Reynolds proposed the amendment and is pushing for it, but she does not have a formal role in the process. It’s up to lawmakers to pass it.

“With Iowa’s disproportionate incarceration rate, this is hugely important to African Americans,” Andrews said. “And it’s important to all Iowans because no one should have to wear a scarlet letter on their chest after being released from prison.”

Last week, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance the proposal 21-0, but some Republicans are still skeptical of the constitutional amendment.

It would restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentence. Some Republicans want to add more conditions to voting rights restoration. A Senate bill to require full payment of restitution did not receive a hearing last week before a legislative deadline for bills to be voted out of committees.

Reynolds said she is open to lawmakers adding conditions, but she does not want the amendment to make voting rights restoration more difficult than it is now.

If the House and Senate pass the amendment, they would have to do so again after the 2020 election. Then the constitutional amendment would go to Iowa voters, likely in 2022.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter