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Voting Rights Activists: State Should Do More To Help Iowans With Felony Convictions Vote

Jaylen Cavil speaks at a park in Des Moines along with other activists and leaders
Katarina Sostaric
Elected officials and activists talked about the need to inform Iowans with felony convictions about their restored voting rights Wednesday in Des Moines.

With less than a week left to vote in the 2020 general election, some Black elected officials and activists are holding events around the state to help inform Iowans with past felony convictions that their voting rights have been restored.

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed an executive order in early August that restored voting rights to an estimated 35,000 Iowans with felony convictions who completed their sentence. As of Oct. 14, at least 2,550 had registered to vote, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Jaylen Cavil, an organizer with the Des Moines Black Liberation Movement, said the numbers show state leaders didn’t act fast enough to make sure people know they can vote.

“The government of Iowa, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and the secretary of state’s office, failed the people of Iowa by not providing the proper resources and putting in the time, and putting in the effort to actually making sure that Iowans get their registration,” Cavil said.

Cavil said Reynolds should have signed the executive order shortly after she met with Des Moines BLM leaders in June. At the time, Reynolds said her office was taking time to meet with stakeholders and craft the order.

For several weeks after Reynolds signed the executive order, Iowa’s official voter registration form still said that Iowans with felony convictions were not eligible to register.

Courtnei Caldwell, also an organizer with Des Moines BLM, said she has a friend who could not find updated information on state websites shortly after her voting rights were restored.

“It’s voter suppression. It’s all these obstacles,” Caldwell said. “It’s something as simple as not updating a website when you know that a lot of things are technology based nowadays. She literally did not know what to do.”

On Oct. 2, nearly two months after the executive order and three days before the start of early voting in Iowa, Secretary of State Paul Pate unveiled a new website with resources for Iowans whose voting rights were restored.

“I agree with Gov. Reynolds that Iowans who have served their time deserve a second chance and should be able to make their voices heard by voting,” Pate said in the Oct. 2 news release. “These resources will help Iowans with felony convictions participate in the process.”

SOS spokesperson Kevin Hall said they mailed a note to about 80,000 Iowans who were eligible to vote but were not registered.

The mailing says, “You may register if you…have not been convicted of a felony OR have had your voting rights restored.” It does not explain that most Iowans with felony convictions who completed their sentence recently had their voting rights restored.

Legislative Black Caucus Chair Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, said the secretary of state’s office should be reaching out to the remaining 30,000 potential voters directly and through social media campaigns.

“We are six days to the election with over 30,000 Iowans who don’t know they’re able to cast a ballot,” Smith said. “We have to fix that. If our state government won’t step up and do that, we will.”

Smith said he got a list of thousands of Iowans who would be eligible to vote, but there weren’t any phone numbers or addresses that would allow him to contact them. He urged Iowans to spread the word to people who may be allowed to vote now.

Iowans with a felony conviction can go to restoreyourvote.iowa.gov to get more information about their voting eligibility.

Iowans who are not registered to votemay register while voting in person early or on Election Day.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter