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Report Estimates About 45,000 Iowans With Felony Convictions Had Voting Rights Restored

Two voting envelopes are on a table. One has a blue face mask on top of it and the other has a red one.
Tiffany Tertipes
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Unsplash
A new report from The Sentencing Project estimates more than 45,000 Iowans with felony convictions had their voting rights restored since 2016.

A new report from The Sentencing Project estimates more than 45,000 Iowans with felony convictions have had their voting rights restored since 2016, mostly because of an executive order by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The order, signed in early August, automatically restored voting rights to most Iowans who completed their sentence, including probation or parole. Those convicted of homicide or who are serving a special sentence related to a sex offense must individually apply to Reynolds for voting rights restoration.

But an estimated 34,000 Iowans are still disenfranchised because they’re in prison, on probation or parole, or are serving a special sentence. And Black Iowans are disproportionately unable to vote.

“Racial and ethnic disparities are in the criminal legal system are linked to disparities in political representation,” said Nicole Porter, the director of advocacy at The Sentencing Project. “Black residents are disproportionately excluded from voting because of felony convictions.”

The Sentencing Project estimates more than 11 percent of Black voting age Iowans are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, while just under 1.5 percent of all voting age Iowans are disenfranchised for this reason.

Iowa’s population is 4 percent Black, but Iowa’s prison population is 25 percent Black, representing one of the worst racial disparities for incarceration in the country.

“It should come as no surprise that a society that aggressively polices and incarcerates Black Americans at rates far greater than the rest of the population also disenfranchises Black Americans at far greater rates,” said Sakira Cook, the justice reform program director at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “These felony disenfranchisement provisions are the legacy of slavery and were adopted after the Civil War to undermine people of color’s political power.”

Nationwide, The Sentencing Project estimates 5.2 million Americans are disenfranchised because of a felony conviction, with Black Americans nearly four times more likely to be disenfranchised than those who aren't Black.

The number of Americans and Iowans disenfranchised because of a conviction has decreased in recent years as states like Iowa changed their policies. Only two states, Maine and Vermont, put no restrictions on voting for those with felony convictions, which means residents of those states can vote even while in prison.

Iowans with a felony conviction can check this state website for information about their voting eligibility.