Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office announced Friday it has cleared a backlog of felon voting rights restoration applications, days before Iowa’s first in the nation caucuses.
Iowa is the only state that still bans all felons from voting forever unless they apply directly to the governor for rights restoration. At least 50,000 Iowans are estimated to be barred from voting because of a past felony conviction.
On January 2, IPR reported more than 300 Iowans were waiting for their voting rights applications to be approved by the governor’s office. The process was taking weeks or months longer than Reynolds’ initial goal of approving them within a month.
A Division of Criminal Investigation official attributed the delays to a spike in the number of applications the state received. According to Reynolds’ spokesperson, the state received 809 applications in 2019, after receiving less than 100 annually in prior years.
On January 7, Reynolds promised to approve 347 applications pending as of that day before the caucuses February 3.
“The governor has reviewed and approved over 400 applications in the month of January alone,” spokesperson Pat Garrett said in a statement Friday.
Garrett has said Reynolds “directed additional staff in both her office and at [the Department of Public Safety] to review and act on applications as quickly and effectively as possible.”
IPR asked Reynolds about the backlog at a press conference Tuesday, when she said she was confident the state would meet her goal.
“I want to thank [DPS] Commissioner Bayens and his team, and my team, for the incredible work and time that they put in to making sure that we met that commitment,” Reynolds said. “They deserve a lot of credit.”
Reynolds also said she got a card from a woman whose voting rights were recently restored.
“The stories continue to just be really inspiring,” Reynolds said. “She said in the card, ‘What I thought would take 6 to 7 months, you were able to do within weeks and I really appreciate that.’”
Reynolds has said she will continue her push to change the Iowa Constitution to automatically restore voting rights to people with felony convictions when they complete their sentence.
If she convinces Iowa Senate Republicans to pass the resolution this year, the earliest the proposal could get on the ballot for voter approval would likely be in 2022. The NAACP and other groups have been calling on Reynolds to immediately restore voting rights with an executive order.
Iowans who recently got their voting rights restored and wish to participate in the caucuses can register to vote at their caucus site.