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Protesters Pushing For Felon Voting Rights Say Gov. Kim Reynolds Commits To Executive Order

Matthew Bruce, an organizer with Des Moines Black Lives Matter, speaks with reporters after meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds to discuss felon voting rights.
Grant Gerlock
Matthew Bruce, an organizer with Des Moines Black Lives Matter, speaks with reporters after meeting with Gov. Kim Reynolds to discuss felon voting rights.

Des Moines Black Lives Matter leaders say Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds has pledged to sign an executive order to restore felon voting rights in time for the general election, but that it would not likely happen until late summer or early fall.

They met with the governor at the state Capitol Monday with representatives of the NAACP and ACLU of Iowa. Dozens of protesters rallied outside the room chanting “Do your job,” and “Let them vote.”

The meeting happened the day after state lawmakers ended the legislative session without passing a constitutional amendment that would automatically restore voting rights. The amendment was one of Reynolds’ top priorities.

Black Lives Matter organizers want Reynolds to sign an executive order to immediately restore voting rights to people with felony convictions without restrictions. According to people in the meeting, Reynolds pledged to issue an order in time for the election in November but did not discuss possible conditions on restoring voting rights such as paying victim restitution. Reynolds’ office did not respond to questions about the meeting.

Matthew Bruce of Des Moines Black Lives Matter said his group expected more details after meeting with Reynolds on Friday.

“She said that she would have language for the executive order drafted and ready for us to see,” Bruce said. “She admitted to us that that was bad communication and that she was not ready to do that.”

Bruce said his group plans to pressure Reynolds to act quickly.

“We’re going to lead the process of getting our own language written down and we’re going to use that to take back to the governor’s office and make sure this issue is not forgotten and that felons go into November with the right to vote,” he said.

Iowa-Nebraska NAACP president Betty Andrews, who was also in the meeting, said she was glad the governor did not rush the development of an executive order so that the language can be vetted by groups that have been negotiating with lawmakers for years.

“Having an executive order without having it go through those efforts would be a challenge,” Andrews said. “We want to make sure this executive order is what we expect it to be.”

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, who has often joined Black Lives Matter protests around the city, said restoring voting rights through an executive order would be a positive step but he said it would only be a temporary solution.

“There will be an executive order, but at the same time we have to push in January for the legislation so that we get it permanently,” he said.

Abdul-Samad referred to an executive order signed by Gov. Tom Vilsack that was later reversed. “If for some reason the governorship changes, that governor can step in as Gov. (Terry) Branstad did and rescind that order. We have to make sure it can’t be rescinded.”

Abdul-Samad said Black Lives Matter leaders are frustrated by slow progress but he believes momentum is building around felon voting rights and other issues.

“Change is going to take place, guaranteed,” Abdul-Samad said. “And those who are not ready for change need to buckle up.”

Grant Gerlock is a reporter covering Des Moines and central Iowa