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Governor Promises To Process Pending Felon Voting Rights Applications Before Caucuses

kim reynolds
John Pemble
Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters at the AP legislative forum on Tuesday.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday all pending voting rights restoration applications from people with felony records will be reviewed before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3.

Iowa is the only state that still bans all people with felony convictions from voting, forever, unless they appeal directly to the governor.

Iowa Public Radio reported last week that more than 300 Iowans are waiting for their voting rights applications to be approved as the caucuses approach.

Reynolds was asked about the issue at an Associated Press legislative forum.

“We have 347 that are being processed,” Reynolds said. “Eighty of those came in in the last 30 days. I can make the assurance they will be—those 347—they will be completed prior to the February caucuses.”

It is not clear how the state will accomplish this. Reynolds previously set a goal of processing applications within a month of receiving them, but voting rights advocates found some applicants were waiting several months. On Tuesday, she said she is working with the directors of public safety and corrections to get through the backlog.

Reynolds did not say if there is a deadline for submitting a voting rights application to guarantee that it would be processed in time for the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“If individuals are interested in participating in the February caucuses, they need to get that application in as soon as possible,” Reynolds said. “And we’ll do everything we can to get them through the process, and get them reviewed, and get them an answer one way or the other.”

Reynolds said she will keep pushing for a constitutional amendment to restore felon voting rights during the legislative session that starts Jan. 13.

Even with Reynolds’ promises, voting rights advocates have been asking Reynolds and other state officials to do more to change its policy of banning people with felony convictions from voting.

voting press conference
Credit Katarina Sostaric / IPR
Ashley Caldwell of Restore Your Vote Iowa speaks at a press conference on Monday.

On Monday, the Campaign Legal Center and Iowa branches of the NAACP and ACLU held a press conference in front of the Iowa Capitol to call for changes.

“The NAACP still strongly supports an executive order by Gov. Kim Reynolds,” Iowa-Nebraska NAACP President Betty Andrews said. “So we will continue to work with her to hopefully get that in place as well, just because that [constitutional amendment] process could take several years.”

Ashley Caldwell of Restore Your Vote Iowa said the state should communicate better with Iowans to clear up confusion. She said about one-third of the people she talked to about voting rights restoration just thought they weren’t allowed to vote.

“That’s a shocking number of individuals who literally could have been voting for years and some of them for decades, that haven’t been voting because they thought their rights were taken away,” Caldwell said.

She added the state should create a website for Iowans to check their voting eligibility.

The groups also drew attention to the state’s flawed list of people who aren’t allowed to vote.

“We’re heartened that the secretary of state has rolled out a plan to fix the massive disenfranchised list that has been well reported to include many errors and keeps many people from voting,” said Blair Bowie, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center. “We hope that the office moves quickly to implement that plan so that people can participate in this year’s presidential election.”

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter