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Iowa Prisons Take Step To Facilitate Felon Voting Rights Restoration

felon voting application
John Pemble
IPR file
Gov. Kim Reynolds streamlined the felon voting rights restoration application to one page in March 2019.

Starting Thursday, people being discharged from Iowa prisons will have a bit more help getting their voting rights restored.

Iowa bans all people with felony convictions from voting unless they apply to the governor to get their rights restored.

Iowa Department of Corrections Director Beth Skinner said prisons and community-based corrections officers will now give people finishing their sentence a mostly filled out voting rights application instead of a blank one.

“It should be a pretty seamless process,” Skinner said. “Because I think what happens in a lot of cases is some of the information is so hard to find for them and they have to dig through a lot of stuff, and our system already has that.”

Skinner said corrections staff will inform people leaving prison about how they can answer the two remaining questions on the application, and then the returning citizens will have to submit the form directly to the governor’s office.

Skinner said officials are also working on a potential plan for mailing partially-completed voting rights applications to Iowans who discharged their sentences in the past few years.

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews recently asked state officials if they would take this step.

“I’m really excited,” Andrews said. “This is something the NAACP has been pushing. That was an idea we came up with to kind of be a gap filler.” 

Andrews continues to ask Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds to restore felon voting rights with executive action.

Reynolds is instead asking lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights. It is not clear if Iowa Senate Republicans will pass it in 2020 after the House of Representatives passed it in 2019. Even if it does pass in 2020, the process of amending the constitution would take two more years.

Thursday is also the day Iowa is expected to become the only state that permanently disenfranchises all people with felony convictions unless they get their rights individually restored by the governor. Newly-elected Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said he will sign an executive order Thursday restoring voting rights to more than 100,000 people.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter